John C. Brooks
516 North Blount Street
Raleigh, NC 27604
OSHA Program Objective
Office Needs an Attorney
Why the North Carolina Commissioner of Labor should be an attorney.
The office of North Carolina Commissioner of Labor is one that can most
accurately be defined as a specialized attorney general, overseeing enforcement
of a clearly defined set of labor laws. The position is not only an
administrative position, but is also one of advocacy. Attorneys are trained in
advocacy as well as in knowledge of the law.
North Carolina’s Commissioner of Labor is one of five elected by the several
states. In other states commissioners are appointed by the governors.
The departments of labor of the several states vary considerably in their
composition and responsibilities. Some states have state-administered
Occupational Safety and Health Administrations and many do not. Some states
oversee workers’ compensation programs and employment security programs while
others do not. Some states place apprenticeship applicants and mediate labor
disputes while others do not.
Where commissioners are appointed, they most often are labor leaders who are
from labor organizations that supported the election of the appointing governor.
This state of affairs brings me to the important message about why North
Carolina has a special opportunity to provide leadership in the process of
formulating new federal labor law legislation as well as modifications to
Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt,
spearheaded initiating much of this nations current labor law. She met regularly
with the commissioners of labor of the several states to discuss and formulate
proposed legislation, most of which was enacted by Congress. In more recent
years this process of initiating labor law legislation has moved to the Labor
Law Section of the American Bar Association.
When I was commissioner of labor, I attended the meetings of the Labor Law
Section of the ABA on a regular basis. I was also able to get that organization
to expand its practice of having committee and subcommittee co-chairmen
representing organized labor and business to include a third co-chairman
representing state and national governmental officials. I would regularly
circulate the many papers evaluating current laws and presenting recommendations
for new laws and revisions of existing laws to all of the other commissioners of
labor. At our semi-annual meetings, the commissioners would discuss the issues
reflected in these papers and take positions on them for referral back to the
respective committees and sub-committees of the ABA. This proved to be very
effective for fifteen years. Sadly to say, this activity on the part of
participation by the states has ceased. There is now no participation by the
states in this process of formulating the nation’s labor laws.
This important activity on the part of North Carolina’s Commissioner of Labor is
one that understandably falls completely under the radar and is not a function
of the Commissioner’s office that is generally understood by the public.
Nevertheless, I highlight it now because this State has an opportunity this year
to restore this activity that I consider to be of tremendous importance to all
interests in this State.