N.C. Division of Labor Did not Shield Staff from COVID-19, Civil Rights Teams Say in Criticism

Cheri Berry’s stain on the NC Department of Labor is still visible, despite a new face in the elevators of the state these days.

The former Labor Commissioner retired from her position at the end of 2020; In November, she wrote that the Department of Labor would not add any additional regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among workers, stating that the virus “has not been shown to cause death or serious physical harm from an occupational hazard perspective” .

Berry’s claim has been proven false by her own commission: In 2020, 26 of the 91 reported workplace deaths in North Carolina were specifically due to COVID-19. It was the highest number of workplace deaths in the past 10 years.

For this reason, three civil rights groups filed a federal complaint with the OSHA on Tuesday, arguing that the state did not meet the standards for “at least as effective” work as the federal administration.

“By late October 2020, nearly 4,000 people filed complaints with NCDOL about COVID issues,” the group wrote in the complaint. “NCDOL only cited five of them for issues unrelated to COVID. In contrast, by November 19, 2020, federal OSHA had conducted 244 inspections related to COVID-19 and imposed proposed penalties totaling $ 3,301,932. “

The Civil Rights Attorney Committee, North Carolina Justice Center, and Southern Poverty Law Center petitioned the department back in October to discuss the need for new regulations to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19. At that point, Berry informed them that no new regulations were needed. The three legal groups represent a handful of labor rights organizations: the Episcopal Ministry of Agriculture, the NC State AFL-CIO, the Workers’ Center in West North Carolina, the NAACP NC State Conference, Fight for $ 15 and a Union, and the Hispanic Association of Chatham District.

“North Carolina’s failure to obey basic rules is a public health and safety responsibility that will have an immediate detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of thousands of black, Hispanic and Indigenous workers across the state,” he said Mark Dorosin. A statement said executive attorney for the Civil Rights Lawyers’ Committee. “We are confident that this complaint will lead the federal government to advise the state to take reasonable protective measures to protect workers from this deadly virus.”

Commissioner Josh Dobson, a Republican like Berry, stepped into the role in January and kept a majority of Berry’s senior executives. In January 2020’s January 2020 round-up of deaths at work, Dobson said the commission will work to fight COVID-19 in the workplace but has not refuted Berry’s statement.

“Given NCDOL’s waiver of its responsibility to address the impact of COVID-19 on workers, its refusal to re-examine the previous commissioner’s rejection of the rule-making, and the state’s troubling history with occupational safety (including the Federal takeover of the state program after the disastrous Hamlet fire in 1991, it is important that an investigation into the following allegations begins immediately, ”said the groups in the complaint.

The groups hope the complaint will open an investigation by the NC Labor Department, or at least push Dobson to take the concerns seriously. After all, it will be a little more difficult for him to hold on to his office: his name doesn’t rhyme.

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