While unions across the country celebrate workers with picnics and parades this Labor Day, members of North Carolina's AFL-CIO are showing Charlotte locals and Democrats just off the plane for the convention some unconventional affection.
With the Democratic National Convention kicking off tomorrow, union activists are embracing the occasion -- literally -- and making an effort to show labor's loving side at the union's "Hug-A-Thug" booth during CarolinaFest.
Jeremy Sprinkle, communications director for North Carolina State AFL-CIO, said the hugs are for "not just Democrats, but anybody in the city."
"Right wing politicians and anti-union folks in general, [South Carolina Governor] Nikki Haley for example but certainly not just her, like to dehumanize union members as being thugs and not who they are," Sprinkle said.
"This initiative is not about legislation, policy or politics," North Carolina State AFL-CIO president James Andrews offered in a statement. "It's something more fundamental, which is to reach out to all Americans with the message that unions – working people standing up together – share the same values around hard work that drives America forward."
North Carolina was a controversial pick to host the convention, because of its "right-to-work" legislation, which prohibits unions from requiring workers join or pay dues, and its low rate of unionizing.
Underscoring the complex relationship between the Democrats and labor groups, the Building and Construction Department sent DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz a letter declaring their intentions to boycott the convention, just days after the organization .
Politico reported AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter to union officials in August saying that there would be no skyboxes, no delegate meetings and no major contributions on the part of the AFL-CIO at the DNC this year. By contrast, the organization gave an estimated $100,000 to the DNC for the 2008 confab in Denver. This time around the organization will focus on grassroots efforts, but keep the purse strings mostly closed.
Labor adviser Victor Kamber said the Obama campaign can expect support from labor unions but not with the level of excitement seen in 2008. Instead of donating cash directly to the campaign, Kamber said some unions that endorsed Obama "made the decision to pour the money into their own internal efforts to get out the vote."
"Unions are the American public," Kamber said. "They're not a different species." And just as polling shows a divided and less enthusiastic public, "that translates to organized labor the same as any other group virtually."
Kamber expects that despite the "slippage" Obama experienced in the hearts and minds of union workers, labor organizers will still put forth the money to educate members and "remind them what's at stake" in this election.
"The Republicans have made it very clear both by their actions for the last two years as well as their platform," Kamber said, alluding to high-profile legislative campaigns in Wisconsin and Ohio that have aimed to break public sector unions. "They would like to weaken if not destroy organized labor in this country."