Labor chief: enforcer or partner to business?

Labor chief: enforcer or partner to business?

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One says regulators need to cooperate with industry. The other says regulators sometimes need to get tough.

In the race for state labor commissioner, North Carolina voters will find a clear difference in the philosophies of the two candidates.

Republican Cherie Berry, who is seeking a third term, says the labor department needs to partner with the state's businesses to improve workplace safety. By using such a cooperative approach, she said, the department has helped make the state's workplaces safer than ever.

Democrat Mary Fant Donnan, a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, says firm enforcement is a better alternative for companies that repeatedly run afoul of workplace safety rules.

The commissioner leads the N.C. Department of Labor, which is charged by state law with promoting the "health, safety and general well-being" of more than 4 million North Carolina workers. The department is responsible for overseeing workplace safety, inspecting elevators, mines and amusement rides, and administering the state's wage-and-hour law.

Berry, who previously co-owned a Catawba County company that makes spark plug wires, said occupational injury, illness and death rates have declined to record lows under her eight-year tenure.

"I have a proven record of success," she said.

Statistics show injury rates have declined in North Carolina and nationally since 2000, but experts say the decline in manufacturing, underreporting of workplace injuries and changes in recordkeeping rules likely contributed. (more…)