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Fed up with both parties, unions hold own party in Philadelphia

July 10, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • A screenshot from the Workers Stand for America rally's promotional video.
A screenshot from the Workers Stand for America rally's promotional… (Workers Stand for America…)

The Democrats are holding their convention in a right-to-work state, and Republicans are promoting the efforts of governors across the country to scale back collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. So what’s a union member to do to show disapproval with both parties? Attend a rally before both conventions in Philadelphia, apparently.

Unions will hold a Workers Stand for America rally on Aug. 11 in Philadelphia in an effort to draw attention to labor issues before both conventions. The Associated Press is calling the rally on Aug. 11 a “shadow convention,” but union members say the rally, which will be publicly announced by the AFL-CIO and IBEW on July 12, isn’t meant to replace any party event.

“Our goal is to refocus the national discussion on the imbalance in our country’s national priorities,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka in a note to members. The rally “will give us an opportunity to connect the faces of ordinary Americans to the basic issues affecting working people in our country while providing an important lift-off to our Labor 2012 political program for the fall.”

At the rally, at the Eakins Oval in Philadelphia, unions will introduce a Second Bill of Rights for workers, according to Trumka. A promotional video on the rally’s website, which provides surprisingly little information, says, “It’s not about party, it’s not about politics. It’s about people.”

Groups such as the AFL-CIO and AFSCME have already endorsed Obama for president and pledged money and ground support for his electoral efforts. Even right-leaning unions such as the Fraternal Order of Police in Ohio have said they may support Democratic candidates this year because of Republican efforts in their state to limit collective bargaining rights.

But some in labor are accusing the Obama administration of weak policies on behalf of labor.  Obama did not support the National Labor Relations Board when it went after Boeing for moving jobs from Seattle to a non-union shop in South Carolina, which ultimately led the NLRB to drop its complaint, said Julius Getman, a labor expert at the University of Texas School of Law. The DNC’s decision to hold the convention in a right-to-work state where it is hard for workers to unionize is just another blow to unions, Getman said.

“I’m personally surprised that they would hold the Democratic Convention in a city without a union hotel,” he said.

Many unions are changing their involvement with the convention this year, but they say the changes are a result of a focus on local, grass-roots organizing rather than national politics. Unions including AFSCME and the International Assn. of Firefighters are pledging to spend less on national campaigns and more locally.

The AFL-CIO is not making monetary contributions to the DNC convention this year, won’t be buying skyboxes or bringing a big staff contingent, Trumka said in his letter to members. But the union said the August rally isn’t meant to replace the convention in any way. Unions provided more than 30% of all money raised by the top four Democratic Super-PACs in 2011, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.

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