In the face of boycott threats from the corporate sector, Governor McCrory yesterday issued an executive order (PDF) intended to make North Carolina look safe for businesses that value their reputations as socially conscious. Time will tell if the corporations promising to boycott the state will decide that this executive action gives them enough cover to go back to business as usual.
While the Governor’s new executive action does ban state agencies from discriminating in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the rest of it is just window-dressing. In truth, there is little the Governor can do to undo the legislation (PDF) he signed on March 23rd. What’s especially interesting, though, is the absence of any signal that mistakes were made in two other key parts of the new law. The first we know all about–making access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms based on “biological sex.” McCrory actually doubles down and reiterates the anti-trans animus that seemingly drove the legislature to call a special emergency session to pass the bill in the first place:
“Whereas, our citizens have basic common-sense expectations of privacy in our restrooms, lockers rooms, and shower facilities for children, women and women;
Whereas, to protect expectations of privacy in restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities in public buildings, including our schools, the State of North Carolina maintains these facilities on the basis of “biological sex.”
But there was also no concession, not even a symbolic one, about another section in HB2, Part II, also known as the “Wage and Hour Act.” That part of HB2 preempts local governments from establishing minimum wage laws, like Seattle did last year. Here’s the justification for this in the bill:
“The public policy of this State is declared as follows: The wage levels of employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, and the well-being of minors are subjects of concern requiring legislation to promote the general welfare of the people of the State without jeopardizing the competitive position of North Carolina business and industry.”
Few are talking about how the law makes it impossible for cities to raise the minimum wage. And I’ve seen no reports of anyone in the business community objecting to that part of the new law.
It’s not clear yet if McCrory’s executive order will end the boycott (though I suspect not). But one thing is clear: the debate over bathrooms is providing very good cover for the anti-worker part of the bill. For many–especially those who find identity politics a distraction from more universal political projects–it would seem that these two sections of the bill couldn’t be more incommensurate. We have politics of recognition (or non-recognition in this case) in legislating what “sex” is, and who can use what bathroom. And we have distributive politics at work in legislating against municipal minimum wage increases. But the line demarcating these two types of politics is not as neat as some take it to be. Without the cover of homophobia and transphobia, without the legislators’ hysteria over trans people going to the bathroom, the action against minimum wage increases would have attracted much more attention.