Mounting labor tensions over the site chosen for this year's Democratic National Convention came to a head on Monday as union leaders announced a "shadow convention" to be held three weeks before the official event and hundreds of miles away.
Labor unions have objected to the Democratic National Committee's selection of Charlotte earlier this year, noting right-to-work North Carolina is one of the country's least unionized states. The city, home to Bank of America's headquarters, has no unionized hotel workers.
Although many union members still plan to show up in Charlotte later in the month, thousands of the rank and file will descend upon Philadelphia on Aug. 11 for their own rally.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers spokesman Jim Spellane said on Tuesday that the separate gathering is not a slight on official Democratic Party festivities but part of a broader campaign to refocus the political narrative on middle-class hardship.
"This isn't about Charlotte; it's not about the Democratic convention," he told The Huffington Post. "The bigger issue here is getting people back to work and creating jobs and economic growth and opportunity in America."
Earlier on Tuesday, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Ed Hill was more pointed about the reasons for staging the Philadelphia event.
"Having the convention in Charlotte was kind of a wakeup call to that fact that really no one's paying attention to the middle class and to the working people in this country," Hill told The Associated Press.
News of the shadow convention broke Monday morning while Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx was touting his city to reporters in Washington, D.C.
Foxx told Politico's Mike Allen that Charlotte hopes to become one of the "most open and accessible" host sites in the convention's history. "We want as many people to be a part of this convention as we can," he said.
He also noted that he had received an "overwhelmingly positive response" to the cancellation of some initial convention activities originally planned, which would have overshadowed Charlotte's traditional Labor Day festivities.
Charlotte's Labor Day parade has long been considered a momentous affair for local workers, despite the state's low rate of union participation. "It's going to be the biggest Labor Day parade Charlotte's ever had," Foxx said. "It's an opportunity to celebrate working people all across the country, and our response from labor has been incredibly positive to that. We've never had a convention that actually takes a day and celebrates working people, and that's what we're going to be doing."
Even though he has accommodated labor activists' wishes to celebrate Labor Day, Foxx still faces an uphill battle in pleasing union leaders: The Labor Day parade has been rerouted from its usual spot in downtown Charlotte to the city’s outer edge.
Spellane stressed that members of his union will have a strong presence on the convention floor, regardless of any reservations about Charlotte's climate for organized labor.
"They'll be there," he said. "They'll be carrying the message."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the shadow convention was announced Tuesday. News of the convention was leaked on Monday.
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