John C. Brooks

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John C. Brooks (born 1937) served as North Carolina Commissioner of Labor from 1977 to 1993.

Early life[edit]

Brooks, a native of Greenville, North Carolina, is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (with a Morehead-Cain Scholarship), and the University of Chicago law school. He worked as an attorney and clerked for N.C. Supreme Court Justice William H. Bobbitt. He served on the staff of Governor Terry Sanford, worked as an administrative officer for the North Carolina General Assembly and assisted constitutional conventions in Maryland and Illinois before being elected Labor Commissioner in 1976.[1]

Commissioner of Labor[edit]

During his tenure, Commissioner Brooks greatly expanded job training through the apprenticeship program. He implemented annual inspections of all migrant labor camps and chicken processing plants. He adopted a blood-borne pathogens standard—the first in the south—and regulations designed to curb abuses in the temporary employment agency industry. He expanded the Wage and Hour enforcement staff so that there could be prompt response to wage and hour complaints. He insisted that all amusement rides be inspected every time they were reassembled. Brooks also advocated for the protection of workers' benefits and for the state minimum wage to be tied to the federal minimum wage.

His tenure included the 1991 fire at a food-processing plant in Hamlet that killed 25 workers. This food (not chicken) processing plant was not registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State's office, as required by law, and thus was not on any state inspection list. Moreover, there had been no complaint about the plant from anyone working there, so the N. C. Department of Labor had no way of knowing that the plant even existed. Brooks fined the plant $808,150, which was the largest such penalty in state history.

The major cause of death in the accident was the locked exterior doors which was not covered by an OSHA standard at the time, but by a standard administered by the N. C. Department of Insurance. After the 1991 fire and before the 1992 election, Commissioner Brooks adopted the North Carolina Building Code as an OSHA standard, which would have allowed the citation of locked exterior doors.

Nonetheless, despite these facts and their being made public, the Labor Department and Commissioner Brooks were made scapegoats for the event, and his efforts were criticized as insufficient. Brooks lost the 1992 Democratic primary for Commissioner of Labor to Harry Payne. After Payne won the General Election, he rescinded the new standard allowing citation for locked exterior doors.

2008 election[edit]

In 2008, at age 71, Brooks filed as a Democrat to run for Commissioner of Labor again. Brooks placed second in the May 2008 primary, but because no candidate garnered more than 40 percent of the vote, he was allowed to call for a runoff on June 24, with first-place finisher Mary Fant Donnan.[2] On the runoff election day, Brooks lost to Donnan, 68%-32%.[3] Voter turnout was 2%, setting a new record for low turnout in North Carolina.[4]

2012 election[edit]

Brooks ran for Commissioner again in 2012. He won the May 8 Democratic primary but because he failed to garner 40 percent of the vote, he faced a runoff with runner-up Marlowe Foster.[5][6] In the July 17 runoff, Brooks defeated Foster to win the nomination.[7]

Ahead of the general election, the News and Observer editorial board endorsed Brooks, writing: "Brooks is in the unusual position of trying to reclaim a post he filled for 16 years – after being out of office since the beginning of 1993. He’s remained active during that period as an attorney with the N.C. Industrial Commission. In that capacity, he says, he’s seen workplace injuries become more severe – a point he uses against three-term Republican incumbent Cherie Berry....Berry says occupational injuries and illnesses have declined during her time in office, a fact she uses to extol her approach to regulation, which leans toward education and persuasion rather than fines. Brooks counters that changes in the state’s workforce, away from hazardous occupations, also have contributed to progress in the safety arena. He says that with more vigorous enforcement, the state can do even better. North Carolina workers need a determined champion, and Brooks shapes up as a credible alternative to someone who tends to view workplace regulation from an employer’s perspective."[8]


  1. ^ John C Brooks for Labor Commissioner
  2. ^ News & Observer: No recount in Labor race
  3. ^ Romoser, James. Runoff for labor post goes to Donnan. Winston-Salem Journal, 2008-06-25. Accessed 2008-06-25. "With 100 percent of the precincts reporting last night, Donnan had 68 percent of the vote while her opponent, John Brooks, had 32 percent."
  4. ^ Hixenbaugh, Mike. Election sets record-low turnout. Rocky Mount Telegram, 2008-06-25. Accessed 2008-06-25. "That was good for about a 2 percent turnout – the lowest in state history, election officials said."
  5. ^ News & Observer: Labor, insurance races headed for runoff Archived 2013-12-22 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ News & Observer: Marlowe Foster seeks runoff
  7. ^ State Board of Elections - 2nd Primary results
  8. ^ News & Observer endorsements for Council of State