Over the past few days there has been a big uproar about North Carolina’s House Bill 2, titled the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.” That bill, which was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory and goes into effect on April 1, has a whole host of restrictions and prohibitions directed against LGBT citizens in the state. All of the opposition to the bill and concerns about it seem to revolve around those anti-LGBT provisions. But there is another section of the law that is being largely ignored, and it should have everyone concerned.
This was first brought to light by a listener to Thom Hartmann’s radio program on March 31, who called the entire bill a “Koch brothers trojan horse.” That listener pointed out that yes, Section One of the law refers to new restrictions on trans-gender citizens in terms of which public restrooms and changing facilities they can use. But section two has nothing at all to do with LGBT rights.
The description of the bill begins with this paragraph:
AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR SINGLE-SEX MULTIPLE OCCUPANCY BATHROOM AND CHANGING FACILITIES IN SCHOOLS AND PUBLIC AGENCIES AND TO CREATE STATEWIDE CONSISTENCY IN REGULATION OF EMPLOYMENT AND PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS. [Emphasis added]
Here is part of the text of Section Two:
PART II. STATEWIDE CONSISTENCY IN LAWS RELATED TO EMPLOYMENT AND CONTRACTING
SECTION 2.1. G.S. 95-25.1 reads as rewritten:
“§ 95-25.1. Short title and legislative purpose.purpose; local governments preempted.
(a) This Article shall be known and may be cited as the “Wage and Hour Act.”
(b) The public policy of this State is declared as follows: The wage levels of employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, and the well-being of minors are subjects of concern requiring legislation to promote the general welfare of the people of the State without jeopardizing the competitive position of North Carolina business and industry. The General Assembly declares that the general welfare of the State requires the enactment of this law under the police power of the State.
(c) The provisions of this Article supersede and preempt any ordinance, regulation, resolution, or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government or other political subdivision of the State that regulates or imposes any requirement upon an employer pertaining to compensation of employees, such as the wage levels of employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, benefits, leave, or well-being of minors in the workforce. [emphasis added]
The language in that section is pretty plain. The North Carolina legislature is saying that no county, city or locality in the state can require businesses to give workers extra wages, benefits or other protections that go above and beyond what the state grants. So much for that vaunted Republican mantra about “local control.”
So if the liberal Asheville area wants to institute a minimum wage higher than the state minimum, that is now illegal. If Charlotte wants to restrict child labor beyond what the state says is acceptable: illegal. If Raleigh wants to increase worker safety standards: no, sorry, not if those standards are stricter than what the state allows.
This virtually insures that no policies intended to help workers will ever be implemented in North Carolina, at least as long as Republicans hold sway at the state capitol. It isn’t clear whether this part of the bill came from the minds at the Koch-funded ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) or if it was dreamed up by North Carolina Republicans on their own. But it looks likely that this is yet another piece of Republican legislation that distracts attention with a “wedge issue” (LGBT rights) while simultaneously attacking the right of localities to improve the working conditions of the people who live in them. In short, everyone needs to be concerned about this, not just members of the LGBT community and those who support them.
Laws like this have a tendency to spread. ALEC will use one state as a “laboratory” of sorts, and if the experiment is successful, similar laws will start to appear in other places. Yes, you need to be very concerned about this new North Carolina law. But not just for the reasons you’re hearing about.
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