AFL-CIO hopes to push out NC GOP lawmakers over House Bill 2

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka discusses the upcoming presidential election during a Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, breakfast.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka discusses the upcoming presidential election during a Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, breakfast. Christian Science Monitor

Local union organizers are pushing to make North Carolina’s House Bill 2 a key issue in this year’s elections, arguing that jobs lost over the law will cost some lawmakers their positions.

HB2, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed in March, blocked Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance that expanded protections to gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, and also nullified every other municipal nondiscrimination ordinance in the state.

“Issues that create fear and division have been the staple of Republican candidates for years,” Richard Trumka, the president of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, said Thursday during a roundtable discussion. “ . . . When people sit around the kitchen table and talk about the issues that matter to them – economic issues, job security issues, health care issues – you know, I’ve yet to have a worker when I’m out in the field walk up to me and say, ‘What do you think about this bathroom issue?’ ”

The AFL-CIO is backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Tim Rorie, the chapter president of the AFL-CIO in Charlotte, thinks that income lost over HB2 will play a role in the election. “It will have a major impact on the politicians, but it will help the ones that are against HB2,” he said.

According to a Monmouth poll last month, 55 percent of voters disapprove of HB2, while only 36 approve of the measure.

The law sparked a backlash from more than 100 major companies. McCrory is running against N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and Libertarian Lon Cecil.

HB2-related cancellations have cost Charlotte-area union workers a total of about $234,000 in work, Rorie said.

That figure includes jobs lost to the cancellation of performances by Boston, Blue Man Group, Cirque Du Soleil Ovo, Demi Lovato and Maroon 5.

It excludes job opportunities lost when entertainers decide in advance to forgo booking venues in Charlotte. It also does not include job opportunities lost when the National Basketball Association decided to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte because of HB2.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-Greensboro, has defended HB2 and has said the N.C. General Assembly “was within its legal and constitutional rights in passing HB2.” He accused the U.S. Department of Justice of “trying to coerce North Carolina into compliance” with its preferred version of the law. The Department of Justice is suing North Carolina over the law, which it sees as discriminatory against transgender individuals.

“Congressman Walker believes voters see North Carolina has added over 275,000 new jobs and has one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation,” Walker spokesman Jack Minor said in response to a question about whether voters might be influenced by HB2. “Voters see they are paying less state taxes and have more money in their pockets. That’s what influences voters.”

The impact that HB2 has had on North Carolina’s economy “is most definitely beginning to filter” into the consciousness of state voters, “possibly some that would be on the fence,” East Carolina University associate professor Thomas Eamon said.

“A lot of people’s opinions are very hardened on the issue, but I think at the moment that most definitely the Republicans will be hurt and the Democrats will be gaining more as a result of it,” he said.

If the Democrats are able to make an HB2 campaign about how North Carolina has been damaged by the bill, they might appeal to Republicans who feel “somewhat disaffected by Donald Trump being their presidential candidate,” said N.C. State University political science professor Steven Greene.

“You’re never going to win an election making a case for transgender rights, at least not at this point,” he said. “But you are going to win elections by saying, you know, ‘Your sense of conservatism is costing us jobs and hurting the economy.’ ”

McCrory’s office disagrees.

“Despite the rhetoric by the media and Roy Cooper's efforts to encourage economic boycotts against the state, tens of thousands of jobs have been created across North Carolina in the past few months alone,” McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said in an email statement. “And unlike Roy Cooper and extreme out-of-state liberals, voters don’t want their children sharing showers and locker rooms with the opposite sex in schools.”

Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048, @MolotovFlicker