Friday, January 19, 2007

Denver labor update

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

Before the 2008 Democratic Convention was awarded to Denver, the major hold-up was the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local No. 7, whose head, Jim Taylor, refused to sign a no-strike agreement, because the Pepsi Center normally uses non-union labor. But Taylor's union will be used during the convention, and this gives him leverage. This was a subject of much concern, with national labor organizations getting involved. Then, all of a sudden, Denver got the convention. So what happened? The day after the announcement, nothing really had changed:

"There is no agreement," Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a news briefing. "There are always labor issues in every convention. We've worked hard with labor officials of all kinds, both nationally and locally. We believe we can solve some of these difficult issues."
The local union is not happy:
"The union has grave reservations," said Dave Minshall, who handles public relations for the stagehands. "I mean the Democrats ought to act like Democrats." Minshall clarified later in the day that although he was drafting a news release for Taylor on the matter, his comments were on his own behalf. He said that when the Pepsi Center opened in 1999, replacing McNichols Arena, the decision to hire Phoenix- based Rhino Staging left about 300 local union members without those jobs.

"Why are they holding the convention at the Pepsi Center?" he said. "That's the house of Wal-Mart, and you can't get any more anti-union than Wal-Mart." The 700,000-square-foot Pepsi Center is the property of sports entrepreneur Stan Kroenke, who is married to Ann Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune.

But other unions are looking for middle ground, and some are unhappy with Taylor's stance:

Leslie Moody, president of the Denver Area Labor Federation, said that although Taylor's concerns haven't been resolved, she's optimistic a solution will be found. "There are both national and local unions working together to figure out how to address this," Moody said.

Steve Adams, president of the Colorado AFL-CIO, said the convention will be a boon to local unions, many of which have members who will get work related to the event.

Taylor's stance roused the ire of Kevin Hilton, assistant political director of the Mountain West Regional Council of Carpenters, which supported Denver's bid to bring the convention here. "If Jim Taylor wanted to have a fight at the Pepsi Center, well, God bless him. But he is not putting up picket lines during Avalanche games, he is not putting up picket lines for Denver Nugget games, and we would be more than happy to support him in those efforts," Hilton said.

In the days preceding the DNC's decision, the carpenters held off criticizing Taylor's stance, Hilton said. "We have all been more than patient with this issue, but I think it is time that somebody says this is something that is good for our members, and good for the city and it is something that is good for the country," Hilton said.

So why did Dean decide to look past this potentially significant issue?
Moody said that Democratic Chairman Howard Dean "is confident that in the next 18 months this will be ironed out."
Dean enlisted the help of labor leaders in Washington, D.C., including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. The national labor leaders assured Dean that an agreement can be hammered out in coming months, Dean said Thursday. That gave him the confidence to award Denver the convention.Moody said that the national union can overrule the local, but would do so only in an extreme situation, like financial malfeasance.

Even for Democrats, who have historically close ties to organized labor, union snags are nothing new to national conventions. In 2004, Boston let a contract dispute with the union representing police officers fester until just days before the convention, when an arbitrator stepped in and the union canceled plans to picket.

Dean had no choice. With New York pulling out, he had to award the convention to Denver, and delaying would have given Taylor even more leverage. But you know that he knows that this is a problem that is not resolved, and it needs to be before the summer of 2008


Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? Won't more unionized workers benefit from a gigantic convention held in their city than if the convention were to be held elsewhere? And so what if Taylor pickets. Will one man be seen amongst a million signs for Hillary Clinton? Boo to Taylor and his self-centered, egotistical ways and attempts to hold the city, the nation, and progress hostage. Lots of stadiums in the USA use entirely volunteer concession stand workers. They aren't paid a dime. At least Stan Kroenke pays his workers. Really, do the Pepsi Center workers even want to unionize? Maybe Taylor is the only one who thinks so.

Matt said...

Well, if Taylor pickets, there might not be a million signs for Clinton or anyone else, since many Democrats would potentially not cross a picket-line to get into the convention hall.

tallport said...

Yes, you are missing a few things. You are missing the fact Taylor is duly elected at his local and has the support of his members. He also has the support of many other locals who remember that an injury to one is an injury to all. You are missing the fact that if unions were freely allowed to organize in this country millions more would belong. The Pepsi center is no exception. Government employees unions are also a good example of such. Look at the vibrant economies in other states, Canada and Europe.