The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 09, 2011

Building trades unions pull out of 2012 Dem convention

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON (PAI) –Twelve building trades unions – all but, so far, the Teamsters – have decided not to financially support or send members as delegates to next year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

In a formal letter to Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, Building and Construction Trades Department President Mark Ayers cited several reasons for the move.

One is that North Carolina is union-hostile and a right-to-work state whose laws actually completely ban collective bargaining by state and local workers. There are no union hotels in Charlotte, Ayers added. Charlotte beat out cities with heavy union presence, including St. Louis and the Twin Cities, for the Democrats’ nod.

“We find it troubling that the party so closely associated with basic human rights would choose a state with the lowest unionization rate in the country due to regressive policies aimed at diluting the power of workers,” Ayers wrote Wasserman-Schultz.

But another reason, said department spokesman Tom Owens, is that building trades members are upset with the attitude of congressional Democrats and the Obama administration towards organized labor, taking unionists’ support for granted.

“We just didn’t want to financially contribute to the party,” Owens added. “We’re strapped for resources” and would rather use money on member mobilization and organizing, he explained.

“And we haven’t seen any action on jobs” by either congressional Democrats or the administration, Owens said. “So we didn’t want to be funding sky boxes and suites” in Charlotte. The DNC has not formally replied to Ayers’ letter yet.

The building trades’ reasons echo dissatisfaction with Obama and the Democrats elsewhere within labor. Union leaders repeatedly slam politicians for not working to create jobs – especially construction and factory jobs – when unemployment is 9.1 percent.

Unionists have also chafed at the administration’s refusal to lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help level the playing field between bosses and workers in organizing and bargaining.

And they got very angry when Obama repeatedly compromised away key parts of his health care overhaul, including the public option, before forcing unions to swallow taxes, starting in 2018, on so-called high-value health insurance. Obama also never supported government-run single-payer health care, which 21 unions backed.

Besides the Building Trades, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) also are not going to the Democratic Convention. Union President Thomas Buffenbarger told Press Associates Union News Service earlier this year that was because his union is holding its own international convention at the same time – in Toronto.

Unite Here was also upset by selection of Charlotte, but it has yet to respond on whether it will either contribute or send delegates to the Democratic conclave. Union President John Wilhelm strongly urged the Democrats to select either St. Louis or the Twin Cities as convention sites. Both, like Charlotte, are in swing states, and both areas have enough unionized hotels to house delegates and other attendees.

But not all of the union movement is dismayed with Obama. Prominent unionists, led by retired AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, sit on the Democratic National Committee. She is a DNC vice chair. The National Education Association’s convention earlier this year endorsed Obama’s re-election, and a political resolution passed at the Steelworkers convention on Aug. 16 pledges the union to – among other political goals – work for Obama’s re-election.

Defending selection of Charlotte, then-Democratic Chairman Tim Kaine said the party wants to build strength in the South and encourage jobs in the “new economy.” Some commentators said Kaine showed Democrats believe unions are not part of that.

And North Carolina AFL-CIO leaders helped in the lobbying for Charlotte. After the Building Trades’ announcement, they added that not helping to fund the convention would be counterproductive to pro-union efforts in the Tar Heel State.