Democrats Announce Union-Free 2012 Convention (Update: DNC’s Kaine: “North Carolina Has a Story to Tell”)

Charlotte, NC Skyline at Night by Willamor Media on Flickr

The nearly union-free city of Charlotte, NC (Willamor Media/Flickr)

This morning the Democratic National Committee announced that its 2012 convention will be held in Charlotte, NC. Charlotte was selected over St. Louis, Minnesota, and Cleveland; it can be assumed that the city was chosen for its location in the new swing-state of North Carolina, which Obama won in 2008 and that the GOP must win if it has hopes of recapturing the White House.

North Carolina has another distinction: it’s the least union state in the country, with just 3.2% of its workers belonging to a union (coming behind even Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi). And the DNC’s host city of Charlotte has exactly 0 (zero) union hotels in which the 15,000+ visitors will stay for the convention. Finally, the host venue in Charlotte, the Time Warner Cable Arena, does not appear to have any union workers. (I called the arena; the operator laughed at the notion that employees would be union members, and a press contact hasn’t replied yet.)

Union leaders had previously asked the DNC to not choose Charlotte or Cleveland for their lack of union hotels. The DNC had said at the time that union representation was one of “a number of factors” the DNC considered in site selection.

“Among the DNC’s four finalist cities, only St. Louis and Minneapolis” have the capacity to “house a large portion of the delegates and other guests … in unionized hotels,” John Wilhelm, president of the international UNITE HERE union of hotel and textile workers, wrote in a letter to DNC Chairman Tim Kaine.

“Therefore, one of those two cities should be the DNC’s choice for 2012. Unfortunately, Charlotte and Cleveland do not fit the bill, and they should be removed from the list.”

Charlotte, N.C., has no unionized hotels, and its convention center’s employees are not union members, according to Wilhelm’s letter. Cleveland has some union hotels, but only a handful in the downtown area and about 10 in the larger region; they belong to a competing union, Workers United.

“Employees at union hotels are far more likely than employees in non-union hotels to get the sort of basic fair treatment for which the Democratic Party stands — good wages, affordable health benefits, stable long-term positions, and respect and a voice on the job,” Wilhelm wrote. “For these reasons, those employees are more likely to provide delegates and guests with better service as well.” […]

A spokesman for the DNC, Hari Sevugan, said, “As always, we are looking at a number of factors and will have an announcement in the coming months.”

Obviously, union representation turned out to not at all be a factor for the DNC’s 2012 convention.

The DNC had a similar problem in Denver, CO for the 2008 convention, but labor had organized at least one hotel ahead of the convention. While Colorado has low union representation, the percentage of workers in unions is at least double that of North Carolina.

I’m told that the DNC will work with local officials and venues in Charlotte ahead of the convention to address the complete lack of union members. I’m not holding my breath, though, for the least union state in the country to make any progress on respecting workers by the time Barack Obama is renominated in a venue without a single employee represented by a union. [updates after the jump]

UPDATE: FWIW, some comments from local unions back in November – the gist is, select Charlotte, and then we’ll figure it out if people complain.

“We believe it will be a tremendous economic boost not only for the Charlotte metro area but for the entire state,” said James Andrews, president of the state’s AFL-CIO. “We believe there will be jobs for our workers and others.” […]

“We feel like our bid is strong the way it is,” said Will Miller, acting executive director of “Charlotte in 2012.”

“And we’ve made it clear from the beginning that should this become an issue, we are happy to meet with folks to work through those issues, just like they did in Denver.”

Claude Gray, president of Teamsters Local 391 in Greensboro, wrote DNC Chairman Tim Kaine earlier this year in support of Charlotte’s bid. He said the Teamsters represent about 4,000 drivers in the Charlotte area who would benefit from the influx of convention-goers.

Dana Cope, executive director of the 55,000-member State Employees Association, said his group hasn’t taken a stand on the convention. He’s talked to Charlotte leaders about creating a more labor-friendly environment.

“We can always address it like we did in Denver,” he said, “so that gives me a lot of hope that we can still land it in Charlotte.”

UPDATE II: On MSNBC this afternoon, Andrea Mitchell actually asked DNC Chair Tim Kaine why the party chose the home state of Bank of America and a right-to-work state, asking Kaine, “I defy you to find a labor hotel for these delegates, for all the AFL-CIO folks coming to Charlotte.

First off, when was the last time you heard a reporter or host even consider the words “right-to-work?” Second, Kaine predictably dodged the question, giving slight praise to the AFL-CIO. Kaine goes on to talk about new industries in North Carolina.

Kaine revealed though that President Barack Obama does not see unions as part of the “innovation economy,” and does not believe that unions to represent workers are part of the story to tell to Americans.. Video and transcript below.

Mitchell: What about the fact that it is a right-to-work state? I defy you to find a labor hotel for these delegates, for all the AFL-CIO folks coming to Charlotte.

Kaine: Andrea, the AFL-CIO has very good presence in North Carolina, some great leadership. The fact of the matter is there are plusses and minuses with each of the four cities. When we look at North Carolina we feel there’s a good story to tell. The President last week in the State of the Union talked about the “innovation economy….”

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