By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
Labor will be most conspicuous by its absence at next week’s Democratic National Convention. That’s because labor, provider of the Democrats’ most loyal ground troops — the people who walk the precincts, work the phone banks and distribute literature outside supermarkets — is having a hissy fit.
Oh, a few labor leaders will be wandering the convention. But the big event for unions next week won’t be at the DNC in Charlotte, N.C. It will be in Philadelphia starting Saturday, where labor leaders will hold a shadow convention as a display of their anger at Democratic leaders.
Other unions will picket the Charlotte convention while delegates meet.
What’s with all the hostility? Simple answer: Location.
North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Bev Perdue, and sent its electoral votes to Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s still a right-to-work state. That means employees in the Tar Heel State are free to choose to join a union — or not. Because of this, North Carolina has the lowest percentage of union membership in the nation, just 2.9 percent as of 2011.
But Obama’s victory in North Carolina was barely under 14,000 statewide. So for Democrats looking to expand the electoral map, a convention in North Carolina was seen as helping to solidify a potential swing state into a winner for President Obama in November.
On the other side, labor looks at the convention — with delegates staying in non-union hotels and dining at non-union restaurants, and Obama accepting his nomination at a football stadium built with non-union workers — as a poke in the eye. As a result, many in labor will boycott the convention outright. The AFL-CIO, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Laborers International Union of North America and others have withheld an estimated $10 million in contributions that would have helped pay for the convention — a radical change from 2008, when unions helped pitch in more than $8 million to help the DNC pay for its national convention in Denver.
The drop in union donations, along with fundraising troubles, is one reason the DNC went from being a four-day to a three-day event. In addition, a number of unions haven’t purchased skyboxes in Charlotte to wine and dine, as they lobby elected officials, and they won’t be sending battalions of union employees to staff booths, wave placards and enjoy the party.
Will next week’s actions by labor mean a divorce is pending between unions and the Democratic Party?
Hardly. This is about union leaders reminding the DNC about who still pays most of the party’s bills nationally and what sort of agenda they expect in a second Obama term. Also, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has promised the full support of his organization in the Obama re-election campaign and pledged 400,000 union volunteers as part of Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in the campaign’s final stretch.
Keep that in mind if you’re watching next week’s Democratic convention. Don’t mistake the empty seats as evidence that the Dems have tabled the labor agenda. They are a message to the party insiders that labor still expects a seat near the head of the table.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.