Charlotte municipal workers picket for rights in runup to Democratic convention
By Joe Atkins, Labor South
In Charlotte, N.C., municipal employees say they are having to work 12-hour days six and seven days a week as the city prepares for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3, yet they are denied collective bargaining rights as a result of a North Carolina statute.
Minor infractions lead to 30-day suspensions, health and safety issues remain unresolved, and wages are kept to a minimal level, workers say.
"The hard work we do is vital for this city to function, so we are asking the City Council to address our needs and rights as workers and to establish a system of meet-and-confer with us to discuss how to keep the city running smoothly through the convention," said sanitation worker and United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 150 President Al Locklear in a recent press release from the Southern Workers Assembly.
The local has joined with other unions and activists in the Southern Workers Assembly scheduled for Labor Day, Sept. 3, opening day of the convention.
North Carolina General Statute 95-98 prohibits public sector workers from engaging in collective bargaining. The statute, North Carolina's right-to-work law, and the fact that North Carolina is the least unionized state in the nation have led to criticism among labor activists of the national Democratic Party's choice of Charlotte for its convention.
City workers have been picketing the Charlotte city council in recent weeks in an effort to get it to recognize their basic rights to organize and petition for better wages and conditions.
(Shot of UE150 members demonstrating for a city workers bill of rights is a still from a WCNC news video.)
Joe Atkins is a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and author of "Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press." A veteran journalist, Atkins previously worked as the congressional correspondent with Gannett New Service's Washington bureau and with newspapers in North Carolina and Mississippi.