RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's workers should have a voice in a study of the compensation plan that the General Assembly is planning, some state employees and their supporters said Wednesday at a news conference that also addressed working conditions and the need for collective bargaining rights.
"State workers are drowning right now from years of cutbacks in our programs and services, stagnant wages and job cuts," said Angaza Laughinghouse, an employee in the state Administration Department and president of UE150, a public service workers union in North Carolina. "And it's very important that we as state workers have a voice in this process that's unfolding."
That process must include public hearings "so that state workers in communities can have some input and have a voice," he said. "This is very important in terms of the present economic crisis."
Legislators are planning a study of state workers' compensation plans, including personnel protections, career status and longevity pay. The study is due by March 1, although the Legislature's website indicates that as of early December, legislators haven't authorized final negotiations between two vendors.
The offices of House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger didn't immediately respond to questions about the study or the workers' request for public hearings.
Worker organization is unusual in North Carolina, which has the country's lowest level of union membership at just over 3 percent, compared with about 12 percent nationally. The state also prohibits teachers and other public workers from collective bargaining.
"It's ridiculous for us not to have a voice today," said Larsene Taylor, a health care technician at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro and vice president of UE150. " ... All we want is a voice so that we can say what is wrong. We work. We do the work, but we get no justice. "
Harry Payne, senior counsel for policy and law in the Workers Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center, said several myths surround state workers, including that they all have good salaries; that there's enough of them that layoffs don't affect services; and that they have no problem finding a new job if they're laid off.
"The powerful people are too comfortable with the mythology that holds us back. And they must be made uncomfortable with the truth," said Payne, a former state labor commissioner and legislator. " ... They must be told and reminded of the dignity and value of public work. And they must be made aware of the kind of public service where there is no applause and there are no plaques."
Martha Waggoner can be reached at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc