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The Dem convention, the unions, and how MSNBC handled it


Michael Whitney has an excellent piece about how some liberals are upset over the Democratic Party choosing the very non-unionized state of North Carolina (and the city of Charlotte) for its 2012 convention:

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.

He goes on to quote John Wilhelm, president of the international UNITE HERE union of hotel and textile workers (affiliated with the AFL-CIO). Wilhelm didn't want the convention in NC because of the low union representation, and instead would have preferred a union-heavy city such as St. Louis or Minneapolis. From this past fall:

“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.” [...]

Time out.

What? Someone getting "better service" because an employee is a union member? That seems like quite a stretch for a blanket statement. Although I'm sure there are cases where it's true, I've looked at the source article and Wilhelm offers no evidence to support the claim. So, while I can't speak for the entire country, I can at least cite a personal example as a counterargument. It's an example you are probably familiar with.

Example: I live in New York City. When we were hit with round one of "snowpocalypse" around Christmas time, it was the sanitation union that told its workers not to plow the streets in order to prove a point. I, and millions of New Yorkers, was not the beneficiary of "better service" -- quite the contrary, in fact.

And here's what's ironic: the reason NYC got stiffed is because the union didn't think it was getting the "sort of basic fair treatment" it thought it deserved. The union workers were the opposite of the happy-go-lucky regular Joe Wilhelm trumpets as the token unionized employee.

But I digress.

Not surprisingly, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell questioned DNC Chairman Tim Kaine about the decision today and specifically cited the state's low union membership. But what is surprising is that Kaine dodged the question. Since the unions are such a big part of his party's base, I would have expected a more specific response:

In all, it must really stink to be a Democratic Party official: The Party's buried itself in bed with the unions to such an extent that the unionization level of its convention city has become a required consideration.

Read Whitney's entire post.

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