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  • Theresa Opeka / Carolina Journal

Labor unions request NCDOL examine reinstituting mask mandates and other rules

Left-leaning groups, including the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, have requested the NC Department of Labor to look at the possibility of instituting rules that would mandate masks and other requirements like social distancing once again in businesses and elsewhere across the state.

NCDOL received two rulemaking petitions regarding infectious diseases. The first is regarding General Industry/Construction employers, and the second is for a rule regarding Agricultural Employers and Migrant Housing Operators. In addition to the NC NAACP, the petitions were submitted by the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, North Carolina State AFL-CIO, Union of Southern Service Workers, Western North Carolina Workers’ Center, and the Hispanic Liaison of Chatham County/El Vinculo Hispano.

More information on the petitioned rules can be found on the NCDOL website.

Social media, including X, has been up in arms about the request for petitions, with some stating that NC Commissioner of Labor Josh Dobson has already granted the requests.

Raleigh, NC based attorney James R. Lawrence III, X page.

 NCDOL issued a press release Thursday that indicates that is not the case and that they are following standard procedure with the rulemaking process. 

When a petition for rulemaking is received, NCDOL said it triggers the rulemaking process shown in a flow chart.

The Department reports that it is following the letter of the law as a court ruled in 2021 that they did not with a similar request. 

Many of the same groups had sued NCDOL over denying a petition related to establishing COVID-19 standards. In August 2021, Superior Court Judge G. Bryan Collins ruled that in 2020, the Department did not follow the rulemaking process as laid out in the flow chart. 

Attorney Luke Farley, who is one of the Republican candidates running for labor commissioner in the March 5 primary election, said in a press release that he is against any type of COVID workplace mandates, adding that the NCDOL was “pressured by a coalition of labor unions and liberal special interests and granted a petition for rulemaking to create new COVID mandates for the workplace.”

He also said if elected labor commissioner, he would begin working on his first day in office to repeal any new mandates that are imposed.

The NCDOL states in its press release that “the process of rulemaking is in no way an endorsement of a petition by NCDOL or the Commissioner of Labor nor does it force NCDOL to implement any such standard related to face coverings or any other provisions of the petition.”

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, who is also running as a labor commissioner candidate in the GOP primary, told Carolina Journal in a phone interview Friday that he, too, is opposed to the petitions and understands that people may have some concerns that mandates are being talked about again.

“I believe they are unnecessary and excessive and that they would pose undue burdens on small businesses across the state,” he said. “I cannot speak for Commissioner Dobson, of course, but they are simply following the rulemaking process, allowing the proposal to be heard, and that does not endorse in any way what is being proposed.”

Hardister said the rulemaking process is very intricate and deliberate, which is a good thing.

“The rulemaking process in North Carolina is multi-faceted and deliberative,’ he said in a press release. “It is not easy, nor should it be easy, to enact new rules in this state. Feedback from citizens must always be welcomed, but our Labor Commissioner must also oppose rules that are unreasonable and work to maintain a pro-growth business environment in our state.”

Hardister said if elected, he would maintain an open-door policy that allows citizens and stakeholders across the state to offer input on safety protocols, but stated again he wouldn’t support any unnecessary and excessive mandates that would hurt businesses.

In an emailed statement to Carolina Journal, Andy Ellen, president and general counsel for the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association (NCRMA), said they also strongly oppose the petitions.

“While we recognize the difficult position Commissioner Dobson and the department are bound by the courts to move forward with the rulemaking process, these rules will harm businesses of all sizes without any real positive outcomes,” he said. “These rules will be expensive and onerous and disregard the voluntary safety methods already implemented by businesses that specifically suit their establishment. We will be expressing our opposition at both the public hearing and in written comments.”

Public hearings for both petitions will be held on Jan. 23, with the hearing for the Agricultural Employers and Migrant Housing Operators at 10 am and the General Industry/Construction employers at 1 pm.

The public may attend in person or remotely via the Lifesize link provided in Volume 38, Issue 13 of the North Carolina Register. You can also email if you wish to appear in person and/or make a public statement at the hearings.

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