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Latest News - February 2011

February 14, 2011
Will Dems look for some union labor for DNC?
Source: Charlotte Observer
By: Kerry Hall Singe

The selection of Charlotte for the 2012 Democratic National Convention will bring hundreds of temporary jobs to the nation's least unionized state, raising questions about organized labor's role in the event.

Some national unions are criticizing the party, which has close labor ties, for its choice. But locally, labor leaders are pleased that the convention will bring jobs and spotlight their efforts.

Last week, Rick Sloan of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers called Charlotte's selection a "calculated affront." In response, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx has said the labor movement, a key historical ally of the Democrats, is not forgotten and may be pleasantly surprised by what is proposed.

"It's not a secret that the DNC has a strong labor component to how they carry these conventions out," Foxx told the Observer. "How that looks going forward will be the product of a lot of work to develop a plan."

And this has some local business leaders worried.

They wonder whether outside union employees will be brought in for jobs such as working on the arena, which needs seats removed and raised platforms built. They wonder whether convention workers may lose overtime opportunities.

They fear unions will aggressively court new members.

"People are thinking that we may be low-hanging fruit," said Kenny Colbert, president of The Employers Association, a human resources consulting group. "There are some companies that are very susceptible around here."

The Charlotte host committee is charged with building a directory of local vendors. But the Democratic National Convention Committee has the ultimate say over which companies perform the work, according to the convention contract.

Charlotte's bid proposal says the city will "endeavor to use union labor to the greatest extent feasible" but provides no detail on how that will happen.

Because the city has so few unionized workers - perhaps 3 percent - it's unclear how much of the pie labor unions can expect to grab. Roughly 3.5 percent of North Carolina workers are unionized.

Tim Newman, chief executive with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said his group already uses union labor for concerts, Broadway plays and other events. Stagehands, for example, are unionized.

He said he doesn't know how many workers - unionized or not - will be needed to prepare for the convention because few decisions have been made.

"We don't even have a firm hand on what the stage looks like at this time," he said.

He also said no promises were made to the DNC about unionizing hotels.

"Until we know the scope of the work, it's just way, way too early to speculate on what this means for anybody's job or hours working on the convention," he said.

Charlotte's lack of unionized workers at hotels was a sore point during the deliberations, with one union, UNITE HERE, which represents hotel workers, calling for the party to ignore Charlotte and Cleveland because of the large number of nonunion hotel workers. .

Experts say the Charlotte likely won't see groups unionize before the convention, as workers at one hotel did before the 2008 convention in Denver.

Labor expert and management professor Robert Trumble of Virginia Commonwealth University said he doesn't expect to see much change because organized labor is so weak in the South.

"Unions already have lots going against them," said Trumble, who also directs VCU's Virginia Labor Studies Center. "I don't see a big fight brewing."

Trumble and some union leaders say other convention host cities have not had to bring in large numbers of outside unionized workers because they had enough rank-and-file members nearby. It also gets costly when lodging and transportation are added.

Local union leaders say they were surprised at the Democrats' pick of the Queen City. They see opportunity.

"Although our percentage of organized workers is low here, it will hopefully bring a positive light to the right of employees to join together and organize for better benefits, wages and working conditions," said William Cashion, president of the Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council in Charlotte, the Charlotte branch of the AFL-CIO.

Harris Raynor, Southern regional director for Workers United SEIU, an offshoot of UNITED HERE, said his group plans to work closely with the Democratic Party and city to make it "a great convention."

"We and a lot of the unions helped turn the state from red to blue," said Raynor, whose union has about 5,000 N.C. members in the laundry, food service, hospitality, gaming, apparel, manufacturing and distribution industries. "We think it's a very important statement of the party about the South and their hopes for the South. We think it's got to be good for all the workers."

Angaza Laughinghouse, president of the N.C. Public Service Workers Union, said he doesn't support bringing in outside workers. He said, he plans to use the convention to "share with the world how workers here are being denied the fundamental human right to collectively bargain and have a voice." In North Carolina, it's illegal for public employees to bargain for wages or benefits collectively.

Colbert of The Employers Association said he is advising nonunionized companies to start preparing now. He said employers would be wise to analyze their pay rates, benefits packages and training programs to ensure they match industry standards.

"This would be a prime time for unions to make their promises. It's natural that while they're here they would try to drum up some business," he said.



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