Democratic N.C. labor commissioner candidates explain job they want

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Shavonne Potts
Salisbury Post
The race for N.C. labor commissioner is about more than getting the victor’s name in elevators across the state, said the two Democrats in a runoff for the state office.
The N.C. Department of Labor is charged with promoting the “health, safety and general well-being” of more than 4 million workers in the state.
The June 24 runoff primary comes down to Mary Fant Donnan and John Brooks. The winner will face incumbent Cherie Berry, a republican, in the November general election.
Both candidates spoke Thursday at the monthly Democratic Party meeting in the Rowan County Administrative Offices building.
Brooks, who finished second to Donnan in the May primary, formally asked the State Board of Elections Tuesday to hold the June 24 runoff.
Brooks is a staff attorney for the N.C. Industrial Commission. Donnan is a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.
Prior to joining the foundation, Donnan worked at the N.C. Department of Labor as a policy analyst and director of research and policy.
The candidates spoke briefly about a new change for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) along with the standards and inspections.
Brooks is running on his previous experience as labor commissioner from 1977 to 1993.
Brooks said the Democrats who serve on the Council of State combined have less experience on the council.
“I’ll add 50 percent more experience,” he said.
The labor commissioner also serves as a member of the Council of State.
Brooks’ objective is to refocus the Labor Department on making OSHA more effective.
“The Republican administration likes the way it’s being administered. It’s a weak administration,” he said in an interview before the meeting.
There are too many industrial and workplace accidents, he said.
Brooks is also pushing for a post-high school residential skills academy to be under the auspices of the University of North Carolina. He said the academy could produce course curriculum and materials and videos via teleconferencing systems.
The skills academy would position the state to compete more successfully in the emerging global economy, he said.
Donnan’s focus is to, “keep North Carolina safe … and working,” she said.
She talked about being able to answer the tough questions.
She described a time when current commissioner Berry essentially avoided taking a position on increasing the state’s minimum wage. In 2007, the General Assembly passed legislation to increase minimum wage. When Berry was asked her position on the increase, she said that decision was the responsibility of the General Assembly and she just implemented the laws, according to Donnan.
While the labor commissioner does just implement the laws, Donnan said the commissioner is most responsible for the relationships between employers and employees on such issues.
Donnan is a proponent of the Labor Department’s apprenticeship program, saying it’s important to expand high school vocational training.
The Apprenticeship and Training Bureau administers an apprenticeship program that helps workers learn new specialized skills needed in today’s workforce.
“I want to set a tone that balances the interests of employers with pressing issues of workers,” she said.
Donnan said she believes regulation is important.
Both candidates encouraged voters to participate in the election.
“This race matters to every working family in North Carolina,” Donnan said.
For more information about John Brooks, visit his Web site, For more information about Mary Fant Donnan, visit her Web site at
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or