- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. | With the American labor movement newly energized by its most serious threat in years, the Democratic Party’s decision to hold its 2012 convention in the least union-friendly state is causing friction with a key constituency.

The Democratic National Committee selected Charlotte to show confidence in the party’s ability to win crucial swing states in the South, including North Carolina, which President Obama carried in 2008. But the choice isnt sitting well with some union leaders.

“I think the Democratic Party is in crisis, and theyre trying to figure out who are they really going to represent,” said Angaza Laughinghouse, president of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union.

Workers across the nation have rallied in solidarity with their union brethren fighting Republican efforts to curtail collective-bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin and Ohio. But the issue is a moot point in North Carolina, one of two states where all public workers are prohibited by law from engaging in collective bargaining.

In many other ways, Charlotte makes perfect sense as the site of the convention. A bustling city of more than 700,000 with a popular Democratic mayor, it is both a center of the American banking industry and a symbol of the New South.

But it is in a state where just 3.2 percent of workers belong to a union, the lowest percentage in the country.

The choice of Charlotte isnt a major setback for unions, but it illustrates how the Democrats have distanced themselves from organized labor over the past several decades, said Eve Weinbaum, director of the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

“The Democrats are following a strategy theyve been pursuing for 20 years or more, in which they try to win over the swing voters while to some extent ignoring their base,” she said.

Part of the Democratic establishment, though, has moved to support the protests of public-sector unions, most notably the group Organizing for America, Mr. Obamas political arm within the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Obama himself has called the Wisconsin proposal “an assault on unions.”

Top labor leaders in North Carolina and nationally have praised the decision to pick Charlotte, and party officials have cited that support to dismiss any suggestion that unions were snubbed.

“The DNC was pleased to have the support of North Carolina labor leaders, including the AFL-CIO, for Charlotte’s bid for the convention,” DNC spokeswoman Joanne Peters said. “The DNC has always been a strong supporter of workers and labor and, as always, will work with labor to stage the best convention we possibly can.”

Still, Charlotte’s labor force is overwhelmingly nonunion. That includes most of the people who will cater to the delegates, hotel and restaurant workers, and even those who will protect them, police officers and firefighters.

William Cashion, president of the Charlotte branch of the AFL-CIO, said he understands why the Democrats picked Charlotte.

“They cant win these states if you don’t play there,” he said.

But he also understands the unions frustration. Union members usually supply the bulk of workers for Democratic conventions. “And that will be lacking here,” he said.

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