About 200 union members protested outside a Montgomery County Democratic Party fundraiser Saturday, asserting the party had strayed from progressive positions. The action skimmed off about 15 percent of its normal attendance, party leaders said.
“This is not about trying to destroy the Democratic Party or to break the Democratic Party,” said Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO. It was to try to get the party to change its approach.
“It’s been difficult at times to tell the difference between real Democrats and the Republican Party.”
But two county councilmen said the protest could have long-lasting effects.
“They’re losing a lot of friends in the Democratic Party who would want to be there for them for the next one and now they’re not so sure,” said Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Takoma Park.
“I think it’s creating a schism within the Democratic Party against labor,” said Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda.
The protest occurred outside the Montgomery County Conference Center in North Bethesda while one of the party’s major fundraisers, the Spring Ball, took place inside. Union members formed picket lines around the center’s entrances, chanting and carrying signs. One read: “Petulant Picketer for Progressive Politics.” Another: “Baby, baby, where did our love go?”
A number of high-profile Democrats chose to honor the picket lines, including Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who had announced his gubernatorial bid the day before, and U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Pikesville.
Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Gabe Albornoz said about 340 people attended the fundraiser. He had expected 400. On Sunday, he said the event raised about $45,000; he had expected $10,000 to $15,000 more.
The protest was called in response to the party’s support of the all-Democrat County Council’s position on bargaining rights for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35.
All public employee unions in Montgomery can negotiate wages, hours and working conditions. The FOP was the only union also to have the right to bargain the effects of management decisions. For example, if Police Chief J. Thomas Manger wanted to reassign officers to a different police district to handle a rise in crime, the FOP could take that to the bargaining table.
The Leggett administration claimed the union was misusing that right, stymying effective management of the department. In a 9-0 vote in 2011, the council eliminating the FOP’s “effects bargaining” right.
The FOP collected enough signatures to take the law to referendum during the November 2012 election. Fifty-nine percent of voters agreed with the council.
Before the vote, the Democratic Central Committee voted 109-14 to support the council, which was the motivation for Saturday’s protest.
By attacking this fundraiser, some party leaders have claimed the unions indirectly help Republicans get elected to the council in November.
“We wouldn’t be doing any worse with a couple of Republicans on the council, the way we’ve been treated the last four years. How could we do any worse?” former FOP president Marc Zifcak said.
Some union leaders connected the protest to other actions taken by Democrats. Robert Stewart, executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1994, which represents most county employees, drew a parallel between current party leaders to actions during the Ehrlich administration in support of Walmart, which has fought the unionization of its workers.
Some Democrats at the fundraisers expressed disappointment, and worse, at the unions.
“It’s an affront to the Democratic Party,” said Gail Ewing, a former county councilwoman.
“They picket the Democratic Party? Their only ally? For 100 years, we’ve carried their water,” said Stanton Gildenhorn, counsel for the central committee.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he believed some of the unions’ grievances were legitimate.
“I think it will be a while before we have our ‘Kumbaya’ moment,” he said.
Said Albornoz: “The Democratic Party needs strong organized labor. Organized labor needs a strong Democratic Party.”