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The Truth About Unions And Business Opportunities With The DNCC

Tim Mullaney, owner of Consolidated Press

Tim Mullaney, owner of Consolidated Press From the day the Democratic Party announced its national convention will be in Charlotte, officials have touted the opportunity for local business to help pull it off. The Democratic Party has strong ties with organized labor, but North Carolina is a non-union state. So who's getting the convention work? A lot of rumors have flown in the last few weeks about how union workers are going to be shipped in from out of state to get convention work. . . or that contracts will only go to union shops. The stories have played on conservative blogs, Fox Business and Politico. Sid Smith of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association is dealing with a big one: Rumor has it some hotels are going to furlough employees and bring in union labor for the convention. Remember, none of Charlotte's hotels are unionized and that was a big concern early in the convention bidding. But Smith says, "It would be totally impractical to bring in union workers from outside the state to work in hotels." "They wouldn't know the facilities, they wouldn't know where anything is," adds Smith. "The quality of service wouldn't be there. It's just totally impractical, so it is not an issue as far as we're concerned. It is not gonna happen." We spoke with general managers at two major Charlotte hotels who said the same thing - and added that union labor isn't even mentioned in the agreements they signed with the Democratic National Convention Committee - or DNCC. But, like many rumors, these union concerns are based on a nugget of truth. The DNCC has a stipulation in its agreement with the Charlotte host committee that "all services, goods, equipment, supplies and materials" will be provided by union labor, to the extent it's available in the region. But, the fact is only 4.9 percent of North Carolina workers are covered by a union contract - the lowest in the nation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "I came here intentionally - and specifically -because North Carolina was a right to work state," says John Monteith, who moved to Charlotte from Canada in 1993. Monteith is no fan of unions. Several months ago he took a job with a local print shop - Heritage Printing and Graphics - and set his sights on getting a piece of the DNCC's business. But he says no one would return his calls. Then he bumped into an executive with the host committee. Monteith says the executive asked him if Heritage Printing was a "union shop." "I said, 'No, I was not,'" recalls Monteith. "They asked me, 'Could I become a union shop?' I said, 'No, I could not.' They then proceeded to tell me that they had been told that unless I was a union shop, they could not accept my bid." Now, a spokeswoman for the convention host committee says that executive "misspoke" and insists that all companies are encouraged to bid on convention business, regardless of union status. Priority goes to goods made in America, businesses based in the Carolinas, and those that are unionized or owned by minorities, women and veterans. Monteith thinks city leaders and DNCC officials have given local businesses false hopes with all their talk about how great the convention will be for Charlotte's economy: "The DNC needs to just say, 'Look guys, we've got affiliations with the union, we get millions of dollars in donations from them, and it's our prerogative,'" says Monteith. The DNCC and Charlotte host committee both declined to do taped interviews, but here are a few of the points they make. First, the DNCC will make at least $37 million in contracts to put the convention on, but businesses can also go after the millions that will be spent by delegates and other organizations participating in the event. The convention organizers have set up an online vendor directory to help make those business connections. So far, $7 million in DNCC contracts have been awarded to six firms that will renovate Time Warner Cable Arena and manage the splash and dazzle of the political show. Two of the six are local, including Rodgers Builders, which is NOT a union shop. Only one of the winning bidders is under a union contract - a Maryland services firm called Hargrove. The contractors will be expected to pay the prevailing union wage and use union labor "to the maximum extent feasible." The DNC is holding an information session for subcontractors interested in that work tonight at the convention center. There will be a few local union shops in the running. From their perspective, North Carolina has been "anti-union" for years, says Tommy Hill. Hill is an assistant business manager of Local Union 379 with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Concord. He's been with the union for 30 years and says he hasn't always been warmly received around town. He's even been on electrical jobs where he was prohibited from having any union logos on his clothes or hard hat. And then the DNCC comes along giving union workers a little preference and "people are screaming that we're gonna take the work, or people from out of town's gonna come here," says Hill. "And it's just not true". Besides, it's short-term work that won't last long, adds Hill. He says before the trade unions bring in anyone from out-of-state, they'll use this rare, friendly event for unions as a way to recruit locally. Most of the contracts for DNCC business have yet to be extended. But there is one shop in town already busy with convention work. Consolidated Press was founded by Tim Mullaney's father in 1966. Now it's his "little wagon to drag." Since 1968, the shop has been union - the only one in Charlotte aside from a small outfit that makes memorabilia for the firefighters. When the city was wooing the Democratic Convention, it went to Mullaney. Why? Well, he can put something on that paper no other local printer can: a union bug. The union bug on Consolidated Press' notepaper. It's a small insignia that certifies the document was printed by union labor. With a little imagination, "you put a couple of legs on the left and right of it, it could kinda look like a bug," explains Mullaney. "If you don't know what it is, you wouldn't really realize it was there." But to unions - and to Democrats who rely heavily on them for campaign support - the "union bug" is a must for official documents. It's kind of a secret code - and it's so important the DNCC's contract with the Charlotte host committee specifically says that all 20,000 welcome packets for delegates, 10,000 media guides and the convention signs posted around town must be done by a union print shop. Period. Which bodes very well for Consolidated Press. "The week of the convention, we'll be here 24 hours a day," predicts Mullaney. "I'm pretty much sure of it, that entire week, we'll be wide open." For now, he says his Democratic Convention business is mainly the occasional order of business cards or letterhead from the host committee. And he's not taking anything for granted, in a day when it's as easy to order from a printer in another state via the web. "We believe we're gonna earn their work, we don't believe they owe us a dang thing," says Mullaney. Indeed, the DNCC says it looks "first and foremost" to a company's "experience and expertise to perform the work at the best value." Information Session for Local Businesses: What: DNCC Construction and Event Services Subcontracting Opportunities When: Monday, November 21, 2011 at 6 p.m. Where: Charlotte Convention Center