NC JUSTICE NEWS: Capping the Gas Tax + Seafood Workers Settlement + Freedom University

November 29, 2011

GAS TAX: Lawmakers may move to cap tax that funds vital projects

State lawmakers have reconvened at the General Assembly, and last night the NC House voted to block an increase in the state gas tax, a revenue source that provides funding for vital transportation projects.

The state gas tax changes every six months to correspond to changes in the wholesale price of gasoline. The “variable portion” of the state’s gas tax is equal to 7 percent of the average wholesale price of gasoline, on top of a flat rate of 17.5 cents per gallon. The rate is set to go up by nearly 4 cents per gallon in January, unless lawmakers prevent the scheduled increase from taking place.

Putting in place a gas tax cap could have major consequences on transportation investments. Repaving bumpy roads, filling potholes, and repairing bridges are just a few of the items that would be affected by capping the state’s gas tax, which funds these much-needed construction projects. Poor road conditions cost motorists in North Carolina $1.7 billion in repairs and operating costs alone. On top of these areas, construction workers are in dire need of jobs – much like many other workers across the state. So why would lawmakers suggest a course of action that would prohibit funding for significant projects and deny opportunities and pay to an entire group of workers?

Without a clear plan to replace lost revenues resulting from putting a cap on the gas tax, the Department of Transportation will have nearly $100 million less in the second half of the fiscal year to invest in transportation projects – leaving a huge gap between the need for investments and the funding available to meet those needs.

SEAFOOD WORKERS: Alleged wage, gender violations addressed in class-action settlement

A group of seafood processing workers, represented by the NC Justice Center and American Civil Liberties Union, won a victory last week against a North Carolina seafood company accused of wage violations and gender-based job restrictions.

Three Mexican women – who worked in North Carolina through the H-2B temporary visa program – served as representatives in a class-action settlement against Captain Charlie's Seafood, Inc. The women, along with male workers, were recruited in Mexico by Captain Charlie’s, which promised to pay the workers the prevailing hourly wage for seafood processing, and by law, were required to cover any travel and visa processing fees. The women also filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging the company restricted their work based on their gender.

A federal court in NC gave approval to the settlement last week, which will require the company to reimburse class members for visa and transportation expenses and alleged unpaid wages. On top of the payments, the settlement requires Captain Charlie’s to institute a gender non-discrimination policy and pay workers’ visas and transportation costs in the future; issue a non-discrimination policy and explain the policy in both English and Spanish; keep track of hours, pay, and job functions worked by gender; and other requirements.

The settlement highlights the potential abuses involving the H-2B temporary visa program. Workers on these visas already receive low wages, and further visa expenses and job restrictions for women only compound the challenges for many H-2B workers. Although the settlement is a step forward, it also shows how easily companies are able to abuse the system and exploit visa workers - male and female.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Extended benefits may end in January

For many North Carolinians, the new year could bring great hardship if unemployment benefits funded by the federal government are not extended. Nearly 70,000 North Carolinians would lose their benefits in January alone.

These emergency extended benefits provide a lifeline for workers without jobs so that they can meet the most basic family needs and keep up their job searches. These supports are critical given the significant gap between the number of jobs available and the number of workers looking for employment in North Carolina.

Congress must act before December 31 to ensure this modest support is available to North Carolinians who are jobless. Please sign the petition here. It will be delivered to your member of Congress on Wednesday.

BUILDING A STRONGER NC: Interactive session in Western NC

This year, United Way and the NC Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, are once again teaming up to share the story of the economy and state budget. Through interactive sessions across North Carolina entitled “Building a Stronger North Carolina”, communities will be given the opportunity to respond and help write the next chapter in this ever-changing story.

Attendants will be encouraged to ask and answer a variety of questions, such as:

  • How have the state budget and the economy impacted your community?
  • What budget trends are developing, and how long will it take for NC to recover from the Great Recession?
  • Is NC falling behind in areas like Education, Health and Public Safety?
  • How can you impact the issues you care most about?
  • How can you join with others to focus your local advocacy for the greatest outcome?

The next event will take place on Tuesday, December 6, in Candler (just outside of Asheville), on the AB Tech Enka Campus. Click here for more information.

There will also be multiple events throughout December in Hickory, Charlotte, Wilmington, Rocky Mount, Elizabeth City, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Durham and Orange County. Check out this flyer for all of the details, and keep an eye out for updates in future newsletters.

CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER CARE: Event in Chatham County

Join the NC Justice Center and AARP NC this Thursday, December 1 for the next Campaign for Better Care community luncheon and make your voice heard on one of the most important, complex issues in North Carolina today.

The Campaign for Better Care aims to make improvements in the health system for older adults and build a strong, lasting consumer voice for better health care. Come and share your experiences about what you think needs to be changed in our health system and take advantage of the expertise offered from the AARP and the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) and more.

The free event will be held from 10:00 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. at the Eastern Chatham Senior Center in Pittsboro. To reserve your seat, contact local partner, Eastern Chatham Senior Center at 919-542-4512 or Nicole Dozier at nicole@ncjustice.org or 919-856-2146.

FREEDOM UNIVERSITY: Georgia org. visits Durham for teach-in

Freedom University began in Georgia this year as a response to legislation that would prevent immigrants from attending the state’s universities, as well as 4- and 2-year colleges. Inspired by the Mississippi Freedom Schools during the Civil Rights Movement, the organization provides college-level instruction to qualified students – regardless of their immigration status.

This weekend, Freedom University will come to Durham for a community teach-in and fundraiser, featuring Lorgia Garcia-Peña, one of the university’s founding faculty members. Garcia-Peña and several Freedom University students will discuss their school’s principles and mission, and its efforts to bridge the gap in educational opportunity created by the Georgia legislature.

The event will be held on Saturday, December 3 from 3-6:30 p.m. at NC Central University’s Farrison-Newton Communications Building in Durham, NC. The event will be hosted by the Adelante Education Coalition of NC, Modern Foreign Languages at NC Central University, the NC DREAM Team, the NC Justice Center, and El Pueblo.

Click here for more information about the event, including how you can get involved, or contact Dani Moore or Ajamu Dillahunt.


 

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