While labor unions have traditionally been a major supporter of the Democratic Party, this year, in lieu of cash, the North Carolina AFL-CIO is offering a different measure of currency to the Democratic National Convention: Hugs.
The AFL-CIO -- a federation of 56 national and international unions representing more than 12 million workers -- is one of a handful of labor groups that have scaled back their financial support for the party's national convention this year, Bloomberg reported on Friday. Federal Election Commission records show that, in 2008, unions gave more than $8 million toward that year's DNC, when the AFL-CIO also hosted several panels and rallies connected with the event.
This year, they are going for a different strategy.
"We decided we'd rather connect with the grassroots," Jim Spillane, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO affiliated International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, told the news agency. "That's where our strength is."
Rather than sponsoring convention events, this year the North Carolina AFL-CIO will have a "Hug-a-Union-Thug" booth at a concert affiliated with the convention as means of mocking the stereotype -- often cited by Fox News staples such as Sarah Palin -- that union members are "thugs."
"The Hug-a-Thug booth is part of a broad, long-term initiative by America's unions to be a voice for all working people," the organization said in a statement.
"Hug-a-Thug" isn't a new event. The Oregon AFL-CIO has already set up several events around the Portland area last month, where passerby's received hugs from members of the National Association of Letter Carriers and Theatrical Stage Employees unions to remind people that "these so-called 'thugs' are firefighters, teachers, nurses, postal workers and dozens of other workers we interact with every day."
North Carolina's 'Right to Work' Problem
The real reason the AFL-CIO may be offering hugs instead of cash during this dead-heat election could have everything to do with the DNC's location.
As a "right-to-work" state, North Carolina prohibits union security agreements -- meaning, for instance, that requiring workers to join a union and pay dues as a condition of employment is forbidden. Opponents claim right-to-work laws are a direct attack on labor unions because it strips them of dues they would otherwise receive, while forcing due-paying members to subsidize services (such as collective bargaining) to non-union employees.
After Charlotte, N.C., was named the DNC host city last year, the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department said it would not take part in the event because the hotels used by candidates and delegates do not have union workers. In a letter to the DNC, the group said it found it "troubling that the party so closely associated with basic human rights would choose a state with the lowest unionization rate in the country due to regressive policies aimed at diluting the power of workers."
Democratic conventions dating to 1992 have been held in pro-union states.
President Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by a less than a half-percentage point, making him the first Democrat to win the state since 1976. According to an average of four recent polls calculated by Real Clear Politics, Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are almost evenly tied in North Carolina, with 46.5 percent saying they supported Romney, compared to 45.8 percent who said the same about Obama.