Hodges Uninvites Unions to the Table


In his first real test of character, Gov. Jim Hodges looked big business in the eye and not only blinked but folded a winning hand. He also violated one of the cardinal rules of politics: Do no harm to your allies.

Hodges' lack of backbone was revealed last spring when he reversed course on his nomination of Kenny Riley for a seat on the board of the State Ports Authority. Riley, president of the Longshoreman's Association in Charleston, represents the 1,000 dock workers there.

For the governor to cave in to the heavy-handed tactics of business interests is an insult to the people who got him elected.

Twenty years ago, Riley put himself through the College of Charleston by working the port with the Longshoremen. He is now putting a daughter through the University of South Carolina in his job as the fifth president of the 63-year-old union. Riley not only is respected and supported by the maritime industry, but is a valued community leader.

"Ken is as fine a man as I have known, and is the type of guy you would want for a neighbor," Republican Sen. Glenn McConnell said during the nomination debate.

When Hodges was running for governor, he reached out to working people for their support. He got it. Riley helped organize and host the two biggest Democratic rallies of the campaign season for Hodges. More than 3,000 people turned out for a fund-raiser at the Longshoreman's union hall in Charleston, and an even bigger crowd attended the Longshoreman's Labor Day picnic. Hodges spoke at both events, and pledged to support working people in their struggle for fairness on the job and in state government.

During the campaign, Hodges told Riley that he believed working people should be represented on the Ports Authority Board, and asked if he would be interested in the job. Riley said he was.

There has never been a worker on the Ports Authority Board, and working people took heart when the governor appointed Riley to the all-white, white-collar board. They took Hodges at his word when he said he wanted his boards to reflect the makeup of the state.

When Hodges was elected, the Ports Authority board consisted of the CEO of Piggly Wiggly, lawyers from the state's biggest firms, insurance brokers and real estate developers.

When it came time for the Senate to confirm Riley, the process was blocked by Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, who refused to assign it to committee. Peeler was backed by Attorney General Charlie Condon, who weighed in on the issue by saying that because Riley was a representative of dock workers, his appointment to the board presented a conflict of interest and was possibly illegal. Condon has yet to cite any legal basis for his opinion.

The Chamber of Commerce led the campaign to defeat Riley's nomination with the warning: "Giving labor a voice on the Ports Authority Board sends a message that unions are welcome in South Carolina."

While that sort of nonsense might be expected from the Chamber, it should not come from the governor who pledged to offer working people a voice in his administration. For the governor to cave in to the heavy-handed tactics of business interests is an insult to the people who got him elected.

It is especially galling knowing that Riley had garnered enough legislative votes for confirmation. The governor still forced Riley to withdraw, telling him that he never realized his nomination would cause such a fire storm.

Riley's union loads nearly all of the cargo that moves through Charleston and, because of the quality men and leadership of the Longshoreman's Association, the Port of Charleston is ranked first in the world for ahead-of-schedule production.

The South Carolina AFL-CIO and Riley worked hard to get Hodges elected, only to be betrayed when it became politically expedient. That is why I have resigned as Chair of the Orangeburg County Democratic Party and am recommending that S.C. AFL-CIO affiliates and the 78,000 union members in this state reconsider their support of the un-Democratic governor we helped elect.

Donna Dewitt is President of the South Carolina AFL-CIO.

Since this editorial was written, Gov. Hodges has again shown that he believes that working people have no place in his government. Hodges nominated Larry Young, president of the Stevedores' Association and the Maritime Association, to fill the open seat on the Ports Authority. Under pressure from the Chamber of Commerce, Hodges did not send Young's nomination to the Senate. The seat that Hodges promised to someone who actually makes a living working on the docks, as opposed to a Chamber-approved nominee, remains unfilled.

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© Copyright by POINT, 1999