In what was widely hailed as an important moment in LGBT history, the Department of Justice recently came out strongly against North Carolina’s HB2 law. The law, which prohibits safe bathroom access for transgender and gender non-conforming people, has also been criticized by advocates and the many communities that are directly impacted by the legislation.
But what is often left out of media coverage on HB2 is the fact that it does more than restrict bathroom access. It also amends the state’s Wage and Hour Act to prevent any city, county, or other political jurisdiction within the state from passing or enforcing legislation or voter-mandated pro-worker policies, including minimum-wage increases and laws requiring paid leave for family and medical matters. These restrictions have a tangible impact on people and families, including transgender and non-conforming-gender communities, who are more likely than their peers to be job insecure and living in poverty.
In undermining the rights of workers, this law also undercuts what has become an important strategy through which antipoverty advocates are able to create change and influence state policy. Over the past year, cities, counties, and states have moved to adopt higher minimum wages. Los Angeles, for example, passed legislation last year that raised its city-wide minimum wage to $15. And just this month, California passed a similar increase statewide, as did New York. Both states’ minimum wages are now far above the federal standard of $7.25 per hour.
Advocates in cities and counties have also had recent success in passing paid-leave protections that are more expansive than what is provided by their states or the federal government. San Francisco recently adopted the most generous paid family leave law in the country, which requires all city employers with 20 or more workers to cover a full six weeks of paid family leave. Such laws have a significant impact on people and families with low-incomes, because low-wage workers are far less likely to have access to paid leave through work. Without these protections in place, workers may incur lost wages—or even be fired—if they take time off for unavoidable personal or medical emergencies.