Charlotte Labor Leader Shuns Democratic National Convention
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- (TheStreet) -- Bill Wise is an influential labor leader in the Carolinas, president of a Charlotte local that represents 2,000 US Airways (LCC) workers, and a committed Barack Obama voter in the coming presidential election.
Yet Wise wants nothing at all to do with the Democratic National Convention that begins Sept. 3 in Charlotte.
In fact, Wise is so committed to avoiding the convention that he has not returned recent calls from two Democratic National Committee members. "I don't have anything to do with that," he says. "I have a prior commitment and I'm not going to go through a sales pitch in the eleventh hour."
During the convention, Wise plans to attend a meeting of the South Carolina AFL-CIO in Georgetown, S.C. He is vice president of the organization: IAM Local 1725, which he heads, represents Southwest (LUV) workers in Charleston and Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C, as well as US Airways and United Continental (UAL) workers in Charlotte.
Without reading too much into Wise's position -- he is outspoken and strongly independent -- it is hard to avoid the conclusion, after speaking with him, that Obama has a labor problem. At the very least, Obama has a problem with the 700,000-member International Association of Machinists, a visible, activist union that dominates the aerospace and airline sectors. IAM President Tom Buffenbarger says that he too will stay away from the convention, where the union's participation will be at an historic low.
A big part of the problem, Wise says, is that Democratic party "has not supported the working man like it said it was going to do, even when it had control of the House and Senate." He notes that in February, Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization act even after Republicans inserted language, unrelated to the substance of the bill, making it more difficult for airline and railroad workers to form unions.
Still, Wise backs Obama. "I don't think any president who took over from George Bush would be any further along than Barack Obama is now," he says.
As a labor leader in the Carolinas, Wise is a rare breed. North Carolina is the least unionized state, with 2.9% union membership, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. South Carolina, where Wise lives, is the second least unionized state with 3.4% union membership. Says Buffenbarger, "I would rank Bill Wise at the top of the list of guys who don't back down from a challenge."