Charlotte, N.C., city workers win important victory

by on January 22, 2013

By Dante Strobino on January 22, 2013

UE 150, firefighter association, Charlotte Central Labor Council members and community supporters gather in Charlotte city council lobby Jan. 14.  Photo: UE 150

UE 150, firefighter association, Charlotte Central Labor Council members and community supporters gather in Charlotte city council lobby Jan. 14. Photo: UE 150

The City Council in Charlotte, N.C., voted 6-5 on Jan. 14 to approve payroll dues deduction for all five city worker unions with no membership restrictions. Charlotte will join three other North Carolina cities, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, in granting this right to municipal employee organizations. North Carolina is the least unionized state in the country, with less than 2.9 percent union membership.

The right to collective bargaining for public workers is still banned by General Statute 95-98, yet both state and federal constitutions affirm that workers do have the right to join a union.

“This vote shows they recognize the union, and the union’s here,” says James “Al” Locklear, a sanitation worker and president of the United Electrical Workers Local 150, the Charlotte City Workers chapter. “The next step is to get organized. Now is the time to fight for better pay and treatment.”

Charlotte  is where the 1959 ban on collective bargaining originated, because of the bankers’ fear of organized — largely African-American — city workers, including firefighters. The city has been deemed by activists as “the Wall Street of the South,” since it is home to Bank of America headquarters and the East Coast operational center of Wells Fargo.

It is important to note that at the opening of the 2013 legislative session, during House Speaker Thom Tillis’ (R) speech to lawmakers, he said he intends to protect right-to-work-for-less and keep North Carolina the least unionized state — to great applause in a chamber where Republicans gained a veto-proof majority in the 2012 election. The pro-big-business and Duke-Energy puppet, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, was just elected governor in November.

Victory after decades of organizing

At the same time that workers’ rights are getting slashed all over the country and Michigan recently became a “right-to-work-for-less” state, Charlotte city workers impressively won this important victory. The historic win comes after decades of organizing in the South. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., fighting for the right to collectively bargain.

The N.C. Public Service Workers Union, UE 150, began organizing city workers in Charlotte over six years ago, and has helped defend against privatization, unjust terminations and much more. The International Association of Firefighters local also played a critical role in winning this victory.

During the month leading up to the Democratic National Convention in August, UE 150 and the Charlotte City Workers chapter, assisted by many community activists including the Coalition to March on Wall Street South, organized weekly pickets in front of the City Council. They demanded payroll dues deduction and passage of a City Workers Bill of Rights.

City workers were then forced to work seven days a week for 10-14 hours a day during the DNC and were banned from wearing their city uniforms at City Council meetings. However, many courageous workers defied this attempt to silence their voices and did attend the rallies and spoke out at the City Council.

On Sept. 3, Labor Day and the opening day of the DNC in Charlotte, UE, the Food and Commerical Workers union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and other labor unions hosted a Southern Workers Assembly. There, rank-and-file workers from across the South spoke out about right-to-work-for-less laws and difficulties in organizing. These actions helped draw international attention to the struggle of Charlotte city workers and forced the City Council to officially begin discussing the workers’ demands, including payroll deduction.

ILA Leaders Featured on Radio Free Georgia

by on December 26, 2012

The East Coast dock workers’ struggle for a fair contract will be featured this afternoon on Radio Free Georgia’s The Labor Forum. Listen today, Dec 26 at 4:30pm Eastern time to WRFG at 89.3FM or at Today’s guest will be Ken Riley of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422 based in Charleston, S.C., where SHROC was held earlier this month.  This local is also home to the Charleston Five (see the video below).

Ken Riley is not only president of the Local but the first African-American president of the statewide AFL-CIO in South Carolina. The extended contract negotiations are scheduled to end January 28, 2013 and if there is no agreement, a strike is scheduled for midnight.

Stand in Solidarity with the ILA

by on December 24, 2012

“At the last gathering of the Southern Workers Assembly in Charleston, SC on December 7-9, 2012, during the Southern Human Rights Organizing Conference, we resolved to stand in solidarity with the ILA in its negotiations for a fair contract for its more than 14,000 members representing thousands more families and communities who will be affected by the contract.”

“Furthermore, that SHROC will build solidarity committees and actions especially in the East and Gulf Coast cities where the 14 main ports are located;”

“That SHROC calls on unions, worker and community and faith-based organizations to pass resolutions in support of the ILA in its efforts to gain a fair contract;”

“That SHROC calls on all unions, worker and community and faith-based organizations and supporters to send emails to U.S. Maritime Alliance Chairman and CEO James A. Capo,, calling on them to negotiate in good faith and to protect jobs for working people. Send copies of emails to James A. Capo to SHROC at”

This is footage of the attack on the Charleston, South Carolina ILA 1422 dock workers in January 2000.

Southern Workers Assembly 2012

by on December 17, 2012

The Southern Workers Assembly was held in Charlotte, NC on Sept. 3, 2012 and brought together more than 300 mainly rank-n-file workers from throughout the South that were members of trade unions, worker organizations, worker centers, loose groups of workers seeking to organize, along with allies.

Statement of Solidarity from Eastern Region Executive Board

by on November 30, 2012

Greetings of Solidarity!

We bring this exciting message following our historic Southern Workers Assembly on September 3rd – Labor Day in Charlotte, NC. Despite the criticisms voiced by many of the big unions against the Democratic Party holding its Democratic National Convention in North Carolina because it bans collective bargaining rights for public sector workers and is an anti-union right-to-work state, the Southern Workers Assembly (SWA) was the main and most organized voice for labor leading up to and during the time of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte, NC. Continue reading »