2019 Legislative Conference Draws Workers From Around South Carolina

The federal government shutdown and equal pay for women were among the topics addressed at the 2019 Legislative Conference held in the state’s capitol by the SC AFL-CIO. Also, a conservative-driven push for Congress to hold an Article 5 Constitutional Convention is not only back again this year but there are now a multitude of bills on the subject.

Charleston Central Labor Council President April Lott(AFGE 3627) said that her local was not affected by the Shutdown but many other locals certainly were (see video). Lott drew attention to the contribution of diapers from the SC Diaper Bank, and also gas money from the state fed and the AFGE. Lott said that the shutdown had not only hurt regular workers but especially hurt contractors and those who were furloughed. She said many of them were still suffering financially since furloughs aren’t considered layoffs.

Lott said that federal TSA security workers make well below what other federal workers make, so the shutdown caused many workers to quit their jobs and look for other jobs. She said that it was very clear that the this chain reaction resulted in a compromise in the safety of air travel.

Lott said that security was compromised in prisons when federal prison guards were struggling to get to work because their pay was on hold and they didn’t have gas money. She said that workers at HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, were furloughed and were told not even to come to work.

She said that 248-thousand of the affected federal workers were veterans, who had already served their country in an important way, but they were then subjected to unnecessary hardship.

Lott said there was a time not long ago when getting a federal job was great, with good pay and benefits, but she said it’s not the same anymore. Lott, who has worked with the federal government for 28 years, says that the livelihood of families should not be affected by the whims of politics. “We’re hard working people who support this country, and that clearly isn’t right,” she said.

SC AFL-CIO Lobbyist John Brisini(see video) talked about various legislation currently before state lawmakers, especially Article 5 Constitutional Convention Bills(or “Con Con” Bills). Brisini stated that previously there was only one bill but that now conservatives have planted 7 such bills in the SC Statehouse, targeting South Carolina in support of the highly controversial proposal. The bills call for state lawmakers to call for a Constitutional Convention, which would be the first one since the US Constitution was created more than two centuries ago. If enough states endorse the request, Congress will vote on the issue. If that Congressional vote passes, federal lawmakers would go behind closed doors and a new US Constitution would be created. Brisini said that supporters of this insane idea will tell you that it’s only to tweak the Constitution, but he says the real intent is to create a different document, following much more conservative ideals.

As part of the Legislative Conference, union participants visited the offices of their state senators and expressed serious concern over the “Con Con” bills. Conference attendees were able to talk face-to-face with six state senators that day, more than in recent years.

Also on the agenda, League of Women Voters leader Lynn Teague. She said that South Carolina lawmakers need to pass a bill that ensures that employee pay is based on skill and effort and provides pay transparency without retaliation. She said that South Carolina has a larger wage gap than the national average.

Ashley Lidow, Associate Director of Policy and Government Relations with WREN(Women’s Rights & Empowerment Network), called for equal pay for women. She said that Equal Pay Day is April 2nd, the date that represents the point to which women have to work into a second year of work in order to receive the same pay that men were paid on average during the first year.

Lidow said that there’re several bills concerning equal pay. One doesn’t affect businesses with less than 10 employees. Another bill is specific for state employees. WREN primarily supports bills H3615 and S372, which she says includes the best of all of the proposed bills. All equal pay bills have been assigned to subcommittee hearings.