James Barrett for NC Superintendent

AFL-CIO questionnaire 11/15

2020 Council of State Candidate Questionnaire

Office Seeking:_Superintendent of Public Instruction _________________________

Name:__James Barrett___________________________________________________

Address:___100 Morgan Bluff Ln _____________________________________________

City, State, Zip:_Chapel Hill, NC 27517________________________________________

Phone:__919-590-5754___________________            Email:_james@barrettforschools.com____


Campaign Manager (Name & Phone):__self___________________________

Please answer the following as fully as you wish.  Please email back to info@aflcionc.org no later than Nov. 15, 2019.

  1. Helping Working Families: What are the two or three primary ways you would use your office to help average North Carolina working people?

First, ensuring that the Department of Public Instruction does everything it can to support a great public education system—from Pre-K through not just 12th grade but beyond by linking to two-year degrees and high-quality certifications—will enable all North Carolinians to access better job opportunities.

Second, given that our schools are the largest employers in the majority of NC’s counties, we can have a positive influence on working conditions for all by modeling being good employers – providing a living wage to all, great healthcare, and policies that support families, such as paid parental leave.

  • About Unions: What is your view of unions and their role in our society generally and in our state specifically?

Unions are necessary for a better society as the expression of organized power and money on behalf of workers, so that there is balance in decisions made that affect all of society.  Even as a school board member, I have been a member of our local NEA/NCAE chapter to show my belief in the critical nature of not just the work of our educators, but also the power they have to make a difference in public education overall if they are unionized.

Would you show your support for unions by joining a strike line or speaking out in solidarity with workers who are trying to organize?

Yes.  Particularly in public education, what our unions want is the same as what the leaders of the system want – a great education for all students.  Without quality workers, there is no possibility of success.  Supporting union efforts to improve working conditions for our workers will help me meet my goal of a great education for all North Carolinians.

  • Adequate Unemployment Benefits and Retraining Opportunities:  Unemployment benefits and retraining opportunities are as important as at any time in our recent past.  Nevertheless, our state’s unemployment benefits are the worst in the nation because, during the last recession, legislators slashed both the maximum amount and duration of benefits and made it more difficult to qualify for those benefits.  What are your views about helping jobless workers including restoring benefits to their previous levels?

I am supportive of this restoration of benefits, and as a former community organizer, I understand there are issues which may not affect my organization directly, but that in partnership we have more power, and I support using the power of teacher unions to achieve common goals for all workers.

  • Workers’ Compensation:  Our state enjoys a relatively stable workers’ compensation system that is critical to workers who are injured in the service of their employers – one that pays reasonable benefits at relatively low cost to employers.  What is your view of the role of our workers’ compensation system and its future in North Carolina?

Workers perform better if they feel safe, and a strong, stable workers’ compensation system is critical to providing that safety net if and when bad things happen.

  • Misclassification of Workers:  During the 2017-18 session, legislation was passed to address the well-documented and increasing problem of some employers misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, which not only cheats those employees, but also cheats honest employers who find it difficult to compete and cheats the state of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue yearly. Although that legislation was an important first step, it does not adequately address the problem. What are your views on this issue?

Having worked in the IT industry as both an employee and an independent contractor, I understand the impacts of misclassification and support efforts to ensure workers are adequately protected and our state can collect taxes correctly.

  • Public Sector Collective Bargaining:  The right of workers to join unions and collectively bargain with their employers is a cornerstone of American democracy. Under federal law, most private sector employees have the right to join a union and have that union collectively bargain on their behalf. Under the U. S. Constitution, public sector workers have the right to join a union but not collectively bargain.  Most states recognize collective bargaining rights for some, if not all, of their public employees.  It is well-recognized that public sector collective bargaining promotes labor peace, facilitates effective and efficient provision of public services, and combats workplace discrimination.

Despite this widespread consensus, NC remains as one of only three states with a blanket prohibition on public sector collective bargaining. Presently even those governmental entities that might want to enter into collective bargaining agreements with representatives of their employees are prohibited from doing so.  A simple repeal of the ban on collective bargaining would be a modest step, bringing NC in line with the rest of the country.  Repealing the ban would not require that governmental entities collectively bargain with unions but would give them the option to bargain should they wish to do so.   Repealing the ban would not affect the existing prohibition on public employee strikes.  What is your position on public sector collective bargaining? Would you support a repeal?

With the majority of the NC General Assembly currently antagonistic to workers of all stripes, and government workers in particular, public sector collective bargaining is necessary to balance the power and ensure that workers are respected with proper compensation and working conditions.  Yes, I would support a repeal.

  • Wages:  Many North Carolina residents – including employees providing essential public services – do not earn enough to make ends meet.  Women and people of color are disproportionately affected by poverty as they earn even less than their white male counterparts.  No employee working full-time should be unable to feed his or her family or live below the poverty line. Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage benefits local economies, lowers unemployment, and stimulates job creation because employees are able to spend their wages and boost local businesses, which in turn create more jobs.  What is your position on the minimum wage? Do you support raising the minimum wage in NC and if so, to how much?

I have a track record of supporting a living wage for all employees and believe the minimum wage should be enough to ensure that families can survive on one full-time job.  Our school district has a living wage policy for all employees that is currently about $14/hour, and I have successfully pushed for more for our lowest-paid employees, especially critical positions such as bus drivers and teacher assistants.  While costs of living vary somewhat by county in North Carolina, $15/hour for the minimum would cover a living wage for all and is a reasonable amount to rally around.

  • Staying Grounded: If elected, what process would you implement so that you and your staff stay up to date regarding the concerns of working families in this state?

As a local school board member, I am used to being available to listen to all stakeholders’ concerns.  My cell phone is listed on our district’s website, and I am visible and approachable at school events and in the community—in the grocery store, at church, etc. When it comes to being connected to working families, in particular the teachers of North Carolina as State Superintendent, I will ensure that my door, phone, and email are always open to hear what teachers think of our work and gain insights into needed adjustments. I will also ensure that I and my staff proactively seek input from educators as we focus on the Department of Public Instruction’s primary mission of supporting every N.C. school district.  One way we will do that is to assign leaders from the Department to each of the 115 districts across the state to ensure that we have knowledge about what is happening everywhere and have an advocate for each district available in Raleigh.  That connection must include getting out to the districts and connecting with educators in each one as well.

  • Campaign Strategy: Briefly describe your strategy to win, including campaign structure, fundraising and communications.

My campaign focuses on my combination of management and advocacy experience, school board leadership, deep policy knowledge, and passion for public education in North Carolina—a unique combination among the candidates and the necessary combination for success as state superintendent. I am committed to getting out and meeting voters across the state each and every day, listening to their concerns about our public education system, and sharing my honest, well-informed beliefs and plans for what I can do as state superintendent to better support all our students and educators. I don’t expect to outraise or outspend my opponents, but I will raise enough for necessary ad buys in this crowded campaign season.

  1. Endorsement: We have certain expectations of candidates we endorse. See page 5 for a list of those expectations. If you are endorsed by the NC State AFL-CIO, will you do your best to fulfill those expectations?  If yes, please sign the expectations and return to us.


Labor-Endorsed Candidate Expectations

All candidates seeking Labor’s endorsement are expected to support policies that advance the AFL-CIO’s Worker’s Bill of Rights (listed below) and to abide by the following expectations: 

Advertise the AFL-CIO endorsement on campaign materials, website, etc. 

Use union printers and vendors to produce campaign materials. 

Respond to meeting requests from the AFL-CIO, subordinate bodies, and affiliates. 

Participate in additional trainings and/or issue briefings as requested, to the best of their ability. 

If elected, appoint union members to boards and commissions as opportunities arise and support efforts to grow the labor movement. 


A Good Job with Fair Wages: Everyone who wants to work has the right to a good job where we earn a fair return on our work and receive a wage that allows us to support ourselves and our families. 

Quality Health Care: Regardless of income, job or a pre-existing condition. 

A Safe Job: Free from harassment and violence. 

Paid Time Off and Flexible Scheduling 

Freedom from Discrimination: In hiring, firing and promotions. 

Retire with Dignity: And financial security. 

Education: Public K-12, higher education and career training that advances our knowledge and skills without leaving us in debt. 

Freedom to Join Together: To negotiate with our co-workers for better wages and working conditions, whether we are in a union or not. 

A Voice in Democracy: To freely exercise our democratic voice through voting and civic participation so that we can make sure our government stands up for this Workers’ Bill of Rights. 

I pledge to support policies in line with the AFL-CIO Workers’ Bill of Rights! I agree to abide by the Candidate Expectations listed above.

Signature:                                                                               Date:    11/15/2019

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