H.O.P.E. coalition looks to repeal law

By Michael Bloom
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Only North Carolina and Virginia have a law like this. And North Carolina’s has been around since 1969.

North Carolina General Statute 95-98 makes contracts between levels of government and labor unions, trade unions or labor organizations concerning public employees illegal, according to the North Carolina General Assembly’s text of the law. In other words, collective bargaining between public employers and their employees is prohibited.

Marchers walk down Franklin Street during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally and march in Chapel Hill on Jan. 17. (Photo by Lydia Wilson)

The Hear Our Public Employees coalition – H.O.P.E. – and its 11 core partner organizations is trying to repeal the law.

“With the law in effect, it creates very few avenues for public employers and employees to share common interests and ultimately resolve them,” said Tom Harris, a member of the steering committee of H.O.P.E. “It just makes things less collaborative.”

Harris questions why private employers are allowed to bargain collectively with their employees while public employees are denied the same right. He said repealing the law would provide the option for a more formal process between colleagues where they could iron out differences.

H.O.P.E. says that the law has denied public employees such as teachers, firefighters and police officers the ability to use traditional methods to improve their working conditions and benefits – or maintain them.

Andy Perrin of the American Association of University Professors, an organization collaborating with H.O.P.E., said the primary goal is rescinding the law in order to allow workers to “choose” whether they want to organize.

The organization has gathered more than 200 signatures from state and local organizations for an open letter petitioning members of the General Assembly to pass House Bill 750 and Senate Bill 427, which would repeal the law.

In a press conference held in March 2009 at the General Assembly, H.O.P.E. representative Mary McMillan said, “We ask not for a legal mandate. We ask not for the right to strike. We ask only for fairness.”

In the open letter to the legislature, the coalition said collective bargaining for public sector employees would benefit citizens of North Carolina as well as bodies of government and their workforces by decreasing employee turnover. They recognized turnover as a major problem for state, county and local governments.

H.O.P.E. also said collective bargaining provides a working forum for government employers and employees to directly address issues of racial and gender discrimination, which the state has cited as a major concern in state government.

According to nchope.org, H.O.P.E.’s Web site, Orange County has the second highest concentration of public employees in the state behind Wake County. About 4,000-7,000 public employees work in the community.

Two Chapel Hill solid waste employees were fired in October after investigations found they frightened residents on their route. Protests from Clyde Clark and Kerry Bigelow on Franklin Street on Martin Luther King Jr. Day displayed their animosity.

Signs that read, “I Am a Man” and “Worker’s Rights are Human Rights” from the two workers and the Chapel Hill – Carrboro NAACP drew much attention.

“It’s situations like this that we are fighting to fix,” said Harris.  “If some type of collective bargaining was involved, it could have been easier to work things out.”

“Workers Rights are Human Rights” and “Forward, Ever! Backward, Never!” have been used by advocates of the H.O.P.E. coalition and they plan to turn collective bargaining rights into legally bound rights that do not look back.

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