Union leaders speak out against chamber event

George Hopkins, Charleston coordinator for the S.C. Progressive Network, speaks out in downtown Charleston against the Charleston Metro Chamber’s previously planned union seminar on social media as Rob Groce, AFL-CIO operations campaign manager, waits to speak. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
George Hopkins, Charleston coordinator for the S.C. Progressive Network, speaks out in downtown Charleston against the Charleston Metro Chamber’s previously planned union seminar on social media as Rob Groce, AFL-CIO operations campaign manager, waits to speak. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published Sept. 11, 2013

Several union leaders spoke out against a Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce event at a news conference today in downtown Charleston.

Seminar attendees would have learned how unions are using social media to organize, but it was canceled by the chamber, which said registration was too low. The chamber plans to post the documents from the planned presentation on its website.

“Everyone recognizes the right of the chamber of commerce to hold a program of this type as a matter of First Amendment right,” said George Hopkins, Charleston coordinator for the S.C. Progressive Network. “The real question here is what relationship does the chamber have to the entire community and how is that changing? Can they do this type of anti-union training and honestly claim to have the best interests of working families at heart?”

Several union leaders spoke against a Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce event during a news conference in downtown Charleston on Wednesday. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
Several union leaders spoke against a Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce event during a news conference in downtown Charleston on Wednesday. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
The chamber offers events to its members to provide knowledge and information about issues impacting the business community, said Laura Bright, the chamber’s marketing vice president. The topic was requested by some of its members, she said. The chamber has not received any negative comments from them regarding the seminar, Bright said.

Eric Schweitzer of Ogletree Deakins and Jim Gray of Jim Gray Consultants LLC had planned to tell attendees “about such methods as well as potential next steps to ensure your company’s lawful representation and protection of your employees and workplace,” according to the event posting on the chamber’s website.

“There seems to be some indignation that we would hold such an event or that we aren’t supportive of certain aspects of our workforce,” Bright said. “And our response to that is that we’re a member organization. We put on programs that our members want and provide knowledge and information business leaders need to have to make business decisions.”

About 10 people gathered at 92 Meeting St. to hear several pro-union leaders and members talk about the role of organized labor in protecting workers and improving the middle class. Attendees clapped and nodded in agreement after each speaker. The event also drew the attention of passersby who stopped to listen.

“So why are we here if that seminar has been canceled? Because the chamber’s views have not changed … We’re here today to protest the chamber’s continued hostility toward workers and their allies who demand jobs that pay a living wage or better, with real benefits included,” Hopkins said.

Bright said the chamber isn’t telling members how to run their businesses, rather it holds these seminars to address a variety of issues facing businesspeople. The use of social media by unions is a trend being seen across the country and the chamber sought to address it, she said.

Rob Groce, AFL-CIO operations campaign manager, said it’s important for the chamber to remember that, on average, union members make $201 more a week than non-union members.

“If the chamber wants to improve the standings and earnings of its membership, than it should stop any tactics that try to restrict representation of its employees,” Groce said.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

Previous coverage
Unions see opportunity in the Southeast

Dockworkers union releases labor contract details

Charleston County schools begin contingency plans for possible strike

Boeing Co. releases Q3 earnings, discusses union in S.C.

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