- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday scaled back benefits designed for North Carolina’s leading state employee union and instituted by his Democratic predecessors over the past decade.

McCrory’s executive order rescinded a 2010 order by Gov. Beverly Perdue that had given delegates and officers of the State Employees Association of North Carolina and similar groups up to three days of approved leave to attend its annual convention.

McCrory’s office called the special treatment a taxpayer-funded “subsidy in worker productivity” for SEANC, which is a local of the Service Employees International Union.

“This executive order provides fairness and equity for all state employees while saving taxpayer money at the same time,” McCrory said in a news release.

McCrory’s action goes further by canceling Perdue’s order, which had contained a provision providing “reasonable access” for SEANC and other groups to come onto property of executive branch agencies to recruit members and distribute materials. Democratic Gov. Mike Easley originally allowed similar access in 2006. Generally, such access was to be allowed at the beginning or end of a work day or shift, or during lunch.

David Prickett, a spokesman for the Office of State Human Resources, said Friday’s action means such access no longer can occur.

The frequency that employee associations can meet with the governor’s administration now has been reduced with McCrory’s order. While SEANC and any other similar association with at least 2,000 members - 500 employed by state or local government - still has an opportunity to meet with the governor annually, potential meetings with state human resources fall from quarterly to twice a year. The previous option to meet with agency heads has been deleted.

While SEANC is a union, state law bars collective bargaining between state and local governments and their workers.

McCrory’s release cited recent problems within SEANC that ultimately led to fraud convictions and a prison sentence for former association Executive Director Dana Cope for using association funds for personal use.

The release said concerns arose when “SEANC failed to implement substantive reforms or leadership changes.” But McCrory Press Secretary Graham Wilson said in an interview that the group’s financial issues weren’t the catalyst for the executive order. “This is something that had been in the works a long time previous to that,” he said.

Current SEANC officials were surprised by the order and said McCrory’s release contained inaccuracies about their group, which recently reported having almost 53,000 members.

“It’s disappointing that the governor would not sit down with us prior to a release like this, an executive order like this,” SEANC lobbyist Ardis Watkins said in an interview.

Watkins took issue with McCrory calculating that it cost taxpayers $425,000 annually to offer SEANC members paid convention leave. At least 40 percent of the delegates to the convention are retired and don’t have leave, Watkins said. She also said the group has made “overarching reforms” since current Executive Director Mitch Leonard took office so that similar problems wouldn’t again occur.

While SEANC was not a union affiliate in 2006, Easley’s order was seen as a small victory for organized labor in a state known as one of the least unionized in the South. Republicans took over state government earlier this decade.

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This story has been corrected to show that Wilson was saying the group’s financial issues weren’t the catalyst for the executive order, not the reforms.

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