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Incumbent Challenged By Predecessor In Labor Commissioner Race

On November 6th, North Carolina voters will elect a new governor. They'll also make selections for Council of State offices. 

The labor commissioner enforces workplace safety and other employment laws, and inspects equipment including elevators. Republican Cherie Berry is running for a fourth term in the office.

Cherie Berry: "We have the luxury this year of comparing records of commissioners of labor."

That's because her opponent, Democrat John C. Brooks, previously held the post for four terms.

Cherie Berry: "When he left office in 1993, he had the highest injury and illness rate for our workers in the history of the state. And we currently have the lowest."

Brooks calls that inaccurate.

John Brooks: "It's apples and oranges. She's talking about North Carolina 20 years ago; I'm talking about the 60,000 workplace injury and illness claims filed this year with the industrial commission. That's way, way, way too many."

Brooks says more inspectors are needed, so the department can identify and then focus on the worst safety offenders. Berry says she prefers educating and training employers to comply with regulations. She says they've achieved a good compliance rate without heavy-handed enforcement. Berry calls Brooks "in line with the Obama administration," which she implies has an adversarial relationship with the business community.

Cherie Berry: "We believe that the hard-working employers all across North Carolina should have the opportunity to take their hard-earned profits - especially in this economic time that we're in - and use that money to improve workplace safety and health, to abate hazards, not simply write a check to the government."

Brooks is happy to be associated with the Obama administration.

John Brooks: "What's exciting about what the situation is right now is that President Obama for the first time in the history of America has asked the Congress for specific money - in this case, $8 billion to distribute to the states for implementing advanced high school training in areas where training is not currently available."

Brooks says the on-the-job apprenticeship program Berry prefers is undercut by a failure to invest in related training. He'd use the federal money - which still has to be approved by Congress - to build a vocational training facility.

Isaac-Davy Aronson is WUNC's morning news producer and can frequently be heard on air as a host and reporter. He came to North Carolina in 2011, after several years as a host at New York Public Radio in New York City. He's been a producer, newscaster and host at Air America Radio, New York Times Radio, and Newsweek on Air.
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