SEIU Joins Protests Against New GOP-Controlled North Carolina

George Gresham photoA series of puny protests against the now Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly and governorship were perpetuated the last few months thanks to coverage by a compliant local media, but now threatens to grow as liberal groups from outside the state ship in additional forces.

With previously powerful NC Democrats now shunted to the sidelines, Republican political leaders have undertaken ambitious overhauls including the reduction of unemployment benefits, tax reforms, budgeting changes, voter ID, elections adjustments, and health care. Especially drawing liberal ire was the refusal to expand the Medicaid rolls because North Carolina’s system is wasteful and broken, and because the federal government only promised support for a few years before the state would have to bear a greater burden.

This week’s demonstration was the largest yet, drawing an estimated 1,000, which still isn’t much in a state of 9 million people. When you also consider the legislative building is in the center of mostly Democrat state government workers’ activities, and the liberal enclave of Chapel Hill is right down the road from Raleigh, the number of those who have shown up is embarrassingly small. With all those big-government types within reach chief organizer Bill Barber, head of the NC chapter of the NAACP, still couldn’t muster enough bodies to sufficiently aggravate elected Republicans as they try to right a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

So Barber called in forces from elsewhere. The most noteworthy of the traveling activists (that we know of) came from Service Employees International Union 1199, United Healthcare Workers East, which claims 400,000 members along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Florida. Besides the presence of chapter president George Gresham (in photo), Barber told reporters that participants came from as far away as California, New York and Florida. The increased numbers finally elicited a reaction from a Republican – Gov. Pat McCrory – who politely suggested that the demonstrations were unlawful and a strain on law enforcement and the courts. Probably not the kind of response they wanted.

These rants and chants from the marginalized Left were expected. Democrats controlled at least one chamber (and usually both) of North Carolina’s General Assembly for more than a century, as well as the governorship, except for a couple of terms when non-conservative Republicans held office in the 1970s and 1980s. But then after a rash of Democrat scandals that still haven’t abated, the GOP took over the legislature in 2010 and the governor’s office last year. So now besides their hatred of the policy changes that the governor, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and House Speaker Thom Tillis are ushering through, the liberals/Democrats also want back what they believed was rightfully theirs for over 100 years.

Except the bellowing of Bill Barber and his few minions wasn’t enough. So he called in reinforcements and professional agitator Gresham – who sharpens his trade in The Bronx and knows how to get arrested in style – was willing to head south. There he was on Monday (Barber calls the protests “Moral Mondays”) outside the state Senate door waiting for his arrest, along with 150 or so others. It’s a dog and pony show: protesters show up, sing and chant, law enforcement officers walk them away to file their arrests, and then they’re free to get on with their lives by the afternoon. God forbid they should actually get thrown in cells for several days and experience punishment for the disruptions they cause.

But this is Gresham’s shtick, but he’s clearly not down just for the NC struggle – he’s got bigger goals. The Tar Heel State is just a means to a larger end.

“We need this fight in the whole country, and if we’re going to begin in North Carolina, so be it,” he said. Sounds like he plans to return, and the national Left won’t let the attention they’re getting diminish.

Gresham’s involvement does illustrate, though, the a big astroturfing component to the protests. In November 2011 he was arrested during Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City, positioning himself among those who claimed to defend the less wealthy against the alleged abuses by the wealthiest one percent in the country.

“It’s time for the one percent to pay their fair share,” Gresham said before his arrest, “so that the 99 percent can begin to live the American dream.”

Except Gresham and his fellow SEIU leaders don’t really identify with the struggle of those they purport to represent. As president of the chapter, he earns upwards of $260,000 in salary and benefits annually, according to the United Healthcare Workers East IRS tax returns. Literally dozens upon dozens more of his lieutenants (most identified as some variation of “vice president”) earn into the six figures as well. The organization as a whole had $158.5 million in revenues for tax year 2011, the last year for which returns were available on the archive. That was an increase from $149.6 million in revenues the previous year.

Those are funds that most, if not all, the members Gresham supposedly stands must contribute as a condition for keeping their jobs. The fact that SEIU 1199 shows zero on the “grants and contributions” line item on their tax return proves that. It’s also a nicely coercive arrangement that Gresham could never enjoy in North Carolina, a right-to-work state.

Thanks to Gresham’s stockpile of financial resources, Bill Barber could call on him to reinforce his previously paltry protests. But that hasn’t muted the NAACP NC leader from his well-known use of extreme hyperbole to call attention to himself.  The latest example was his allegation that Republicans want to “crucify voting rights” because they want to require photo identification at the polls (supported by 70 percent of voters in the state) and reduce availability of early and Sunday voting, all which fail a cost-benefit analysis but have developed into yet another entitlement for liberals.

“But every crucifixion is followed by a resurrection,” Barber told his fellow agitators on Monday.

With millions of dollars coerced from the 99-percenters within the out-of-state unions’ rank-and-file, it is likely to be an imported, Astroturfed uprising.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes, an aggregator of North Carolina news.