Unemployment bill exposed by House of Raeford plant closings

Aug. 12, 2013 @ 01:33 PM

Gov. Pat  McCrory is touting 150 high tech jobs that Research Triangle Park will gain by 2018 (Herald Sun article “Syngenta confirms plans to invest $94 million in RTP, add 150 jobs,” July 30.) (http://www.heraldsun.com/business/localandstate/x807782880/Syngenta-confirms-plans-to-invest-94-million-in-RTP-add-150-jobs)

We could compare the 150 projected 2018 jobs with the projected loss of 5,200 teacher jobs and 4,580 teacher assistant jobs based on the budget that McCrory signed on July 26.  But more immediately, let’s consider the House of Raeford plant closings that happened August 1.  The 950 House of Raeford jobs were generally low-wage positions.  However, these jobs provided steady paychecks for many people in a four-county area that has unemployment rates in the double digits. 

The pain from the Raeford job loss is so much worse because of the new unemployment law (House Bill 4) that McCrory signed Feb. 19. The turkey plant workers in that part of North Carolina are the first larger group to experience this ruthless new law, which went into effect July 1.  These workers not only lost their jobs, but also face shrunken weekly benefits – slashed by a third – for a frighteningly brief time before they are dumped by our state as well.  HB 4 also makes them ineligible for Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (UEC) benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 170,000 North Carolinians will lose an estimated $780 million in unemployment payments because of the new law. 

The pain of the plant closing will extend to turkey farmers, not counted in the 950 House of Raeford employees.

Did our lawmakers or governor consider the job loss for workers in a depressed part of our state?  The closing has been publicized since at least March 2013, so they should have.  There are not many job opportunities down east, so the loss of emergency long-term unemployment will hurt too.

North Carolina is the only state in the United States to turn down the Federal EUC Program.  This program is 100 percent funded and was providing unemployment benefits to over 70,000 out-of-work North Carolinians who had exhausted their state benefits until those people were cut off July 1.  Our lawmakers should revisit this brutal bill in a special session. 

Certainly our lawmakers were approached multiple times to extend the EUC through the end of 2013. I know because the North Carolina National Organization for Women signed on to a letter from more than 20 advocacy groups calling on Gov. McCrory and lawmakers to keep families from going over the unemployment cliff on July 1.  This letter was delivered at least three times by the NC Justice Center, and said in part:

"At a time when so many North Carolinians are struggling to find work, the loss of federal benefits through the end of the year will affect thousands of individuals and families across the state, as well as local businesses and retailers who need consumers to demand their goods and services."

North Carolina has offered millions to entice Syngenta, a Switzerland-based company.  Why can't North Carolina help House of Raeford - a North Carolina company that employed many North Carolinians - reopen? 

Gailya Paliga is president, NC National Organization for Women.