Outgoing North Carolina Secretary of Labor Cherie Berry has been around long enough to become a footnote in the popular culture of our state. “The Elevator Lady,” whose signature has graced the certificate of operation in every elevator in the state since 2001 when she was first elected, declined to run for a sixth term last year. Before she leaves in January, ceding the position to fellow Republican Josh Dobson, she had time to drop a viral TikTok video, and also to make another in a long line of bad decisions, hostile to labor and nakedly beholden to the business interests that have been propping her up since she was a state rep from 1993-2001.
In a Nov. 9 letter responding to a petition from legal and civil rights groups, one that requested new rules for workplace safety specifically written to address coronavirus, Berry emphatically declined, writing: “The NCDOL will not adopt an emergency temporary standard regarding SARS-CoV-2, and is denying your petition….”
She cited a number of regulations and orders that had already been put in place, then hinged her response on an erroneous assertion: “[T]he virus has not proven likely to cause death or serious physical harm from the perspective of an occupational hazard.”
But that’s not technically true.
Deaths linked to COVID-19 at chicken- and pork-processing plants have been well documented. Restaurants and bars have been identified as hot spots for transmission. Everyone who works in the prison system are extremely susceptible to infection. Can anyone think of a job that hasn’t become more dangerous since the coronavirus descended?
Perhaps it’s wrong to expect more in such a strict right-to-work, non-union state. But shouldn’t the secretary of labor be vested in the interests of those who commit labor, as opposed to those who exploit it?
And though we all know her from the elevators, or perhaps one of the songs that indie bands have written about her, Berry’s real job for all these years has been protecting the chicken and pork plants — themselves hotbeds of COVID-infested droplets — and the hog farms and the dwindling interests of manufacturing in NC. And that’s nothing a regime change can fix. Dobson, a Republican who served four terms in the House, gives no indication of wavering from the party line set in 2010 when the GOP took over the state legislature.
It’s got nothing to do with labor. And it makes one wonder just how safe those elevators were in the first place.