The Democratic National Committee's selection of Charlotte to host its convention has angered labor unions, with advocates arguing that the right-to-work state is one of the least supportive for union work, and that the city — home to Bank of America's headquarters — has no unionized hotel workers. Now unions say they have another reason to gripe.
Charlotte is snubbing its local Labor Day parade, union representatives claim, with the city citing security concerns though the parade takes place the day before the Democratic National Convention starts. The city has forced organizers to jettison the parade's traditional route — passing through the heart of downtown — for a more out-of-the-way route along the city's outer edge. City officials have also banned motorized vehicles from participating in the festivities and even tried to ban marching bands, according to the parade organizers.
Union representatives say something bigger than drum lines might be at stake, if what had once been considered a family-friendly event is now being considered threatening.
"We are not really happy," says Cindy Foster, president of the Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council, a part of the AFL-CIO representing North Carolina. "The event is being treated more as a protest."
And now the parade may look a lot more like one, organizers say.
The hour-long parade has typically resembled nothing more than a community gathering to celebrate work and wave a few American flags, participants describe. High school bands marched alongside Teamsters in big trucks. Local dignitaries waved from convertibles and vintage cars. Firefighters rode by and marching bands strutted in sync. The parade's chairman, Ben Lee, estimates that about a third of the parade had been on wheels.
"Everything's different this year," Lee says. "We knew last summer things were going to be different."
Convention organizers say any dealings over the parade are the city's responsibility. Robert A. Tufano, a spokesman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, says the old parade route had been in the way of the convention activities.
"With the DNC beginning the following day, security and transportation set-up and planning preclude the use of the traditional route," Tufano wrote in an email.
Tufano refutes Lee and Foster's claim that marching bands were at first barred from the parade. He adds that the parade's use of cars might still be on the table.
"We will continue to discuss the possible inclusion of floats and/or motorized vehicles with the parade organizers in light of security concerns," he wrote.
Parade chairman Lee says he considers the security issue a legitimate reason for the parade downsizing and that the city has been cooperative during the negotiations. But Jeremy Sprinkle, spokesman for the North Carolina AFL-CIO, says the city's fight over the parade has been unnecessary. "To the extent that the city is making it difficult, that doesn't paint the city of Charlotte in a good light," Sprinkle says.
At least the parade rerouting has stirred up union members, Sprinkle adds.
"It has gotten more people fired up about exercising their freedom of speech."
Scott Thrower, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 379, is not so much a fired-up participant as a disappointed one. Last year, he says the float marked the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 with a tribute to the twin towers. "We had 12 IBEW members who passed away," Thrower says. The display was 10 feet by 10 feet, and members recreated the towers out of wood. This time, he'll have to leave his float on the sidelines.
"We always take pride in our float,'' Thrower says. "It's the one day a year we get to shine. It's not the Macy's Day parade, but we always get a good crowd."
Cherkis is a Huffington Post writer and Creative Loafing contributing writer.