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Farley offers contrast in labor commissioner race

North Carolina still elects a labor commissioner, whose main job is to ensure safe workplaces. That includes maintaining safe elevators that urban dwellers rely on to get to their office and apartments, which is why many associate the job with the commissioner’s photo on the inspection form.

This year’s November general election features two candidates with different visions. Current Commissioner Josh Dobson decided against seeking a second four-year term.

GOP candidate Luke Farley grew up in Onslow County, earned a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill in 2007 and a law degree from Wake Forest University, and has been a lawyer in the Triangle for 13 years.

He’s focused mainly on construction industry issues, including defending clients in Occupational Safety and Health Administration cases. “Seeing the success and struggles of the construction industry got me interested in the labor commissioner position,” he says. “You’ve got to protect workers in a way that doesn’t bankrupt businesses.”

Democratic Party nominee Braxton served on the Charlotte City Council for six years before stepping down last year. He is a union stagehand and grip.

Farley’s victory in the GOP primary over N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister surprised many, including the NC Chamber. In April, the chamber called Farley a “sharp contrast to his [Democrat] opponent. Our vision for North Carolina includes maintaining our competitive position as a right-to-work state and Mr. Farley shares that vision.”

Farley has several years of construction law experience and service on the Durham County Board of Elections, Wake County library board and N.C. Human Relations Commission.

He credits his victory to putting 20,000 miles on his truck while campaigning across the state, along with the endorsement of former Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, often called the “Elevator Queen” during her tenure from 2001-21.

Regarding vaccines, he says he heard stories on the campaign trail about workers who lost their jobs because they refused to take the jab during the pandemic. “It was a big deal for people, and I think we need to be protecting the rights of workers,” he says.

Union and Democratic Party officials repeatedly questioned Berry’s commitment to worker safety. But Farley contends the incidence of injuries per 100 workers declined by about 50% during her reign, with the N.C. average significantly lower than the national rate, he says. “She did a fantastic job,” he says.

Winston says he favors issues like "pay discrimination by gender and other issues, some of which are beyond the commissioner’s scope."

The two also disagree on the value of unions, which may become a topic in North Carolina after the unexpected unionization victory at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory. The UAW won 73% of the vote at the 5,500-employee plant, overcoming opposition from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and pro-business groups.

“I absolutely embrace unions,” Democrat Braxton Winston says.

Republican Luke Farley says unions won’t help N.C. workers. “It’s not what our state wants. We are a right-to-work state, and no one should be forced to join a union."

North Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat for labor commissioner since 1996. Winston hopes to break that streak by attracting more votes in typically Republican rural areas and energizing Mecklenburg County Democrats, who have had low election turnouts in recent years.

Farley says his “common-sense conservatism” should help him win the election.


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