Fact Check: NC GOP makes claims about union backing for 'Moral Monday'
Posted July 13, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Republican Party used a news conference in Winston-Salem Monday morning to spotlight what party leaders say is an unseemly connection between labor unions and the "Moral Monday" movement.
"Out-of-state unions are really behind Moral Mondays," Republican Party Chairman Hasan Harnett told reporters.
This claim came as a federal court began hearing a lawsuit challenging changes the GOP-led General Assembly made to North Carolina's voting laws two years ago. Harnett claimed that union groups wanted to make it easier to commit voter fraud in North Carolina, and that's why they would funnel money to the Moral Monday movement.
"They want to make it easier to cheat in our elections," he said. "They are being paid by unions to fight voter ID in North Carolina."
It's worth noting that the provision of the 2103 law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is no longer at issue in the federal case after changes this summer to the voting law. Instead, the court is hearing challenges to items such as changes in the way early voting is conducted and the elimination of pre-registration by 16- and 17-year-olds who will soon be eligible to vote.
Asked how the federal trial that started Monday connected to potential voter fraud, Republican Party spokesman Ricky Diaz said, "The answer is it's the unions funding Moral Mondays." He added, "It doesn't take a professor to read between the lines there."
This is not the first time that Republicans have claimed that "outsiders" were responsible for the protests organized by the Moral Monday movement, a coalition of liberal groups led by the NAACP and its North Carolina president, the Rev. William Barber. In 2013, when protesters first started getting arrested at the General Assembly building, Gov. Pat McCrory and other GOP leaders claimed that most in the crowds were from outside of North Carolina. Those claims were called into question both by surveys of the crowds as well as reviews of the arrest records for those taken into custody during the summer 2013 protests.
In addition to their news conference Monday, Republican leaders launched a website, immoralmondays.com, that draws connections between Moral Mondays and unions. To back-up the claims on the website, the state GOP offered a white paper that draws on disclosure statements unions file with the U.S. Department of Labor.
As with any set of political claims, there is a certain amount of hyperbole involved in the GOP's claims. For example, it was clear that Harnett was using the word "union" as a pejorative adjective, while there are a good number of people who are proud of their connections to organized labor and would not find a connection between candidates they support and union groups at all problematic.
- Barber himself benefited from his union connections due to his Moral Monday activity and that of Moral Monday organizers.
- Protesters and others affiliated with the movement were bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union and other union groups.
Barber gives speeches
"In 2014, William Barber pocketed over $20,000 from the national labor union bosses to give paid speeches," Harnett said. "That means, while he was organizing protests to advocate for things like teachers' pay at the General Assembly, he was pocketing cash from the teacher's union at the same time." That assertion echoes an email sent by the North Carolina Republican Party two weeks ago that said, "In 2014, records show that William Barber directly pocketed at least $20,000 in payments from labor unions while he was organizing Moral Monday protests of GOP-led policies in North Carolina."
This claim is based on disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2014, the American Postal Workers Union, the United Steelworkers of America, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees each paid Barber $5,000. Based on interviews and the records themselves, those payments appear to be for speeches Barber gave to those groups.
For example, the American Postal Workers Union reported paying Barber $5,000 on Aug. 15, 2014.That's was about a month after Barber gave a speech to the union's national convention in Chicago. Video of that speech shows Barber expounding on voting rights, the treatment of the poor and other themes common to his speeches on behalf of Moral Mondays in North Carolina.
"If a Republican was paid $20,000 by the Koch brothers to give paid speeches, the Democrats, Moral Monday crowd and media would be up in arms about it," Diaz wrote in response for clarification. "Let's be generous and say his speeches are an hour long each. That's ($5,000 per) hour! Yet, he's protesting for a $10 minimum wage at the General Assembly ... That's complete hypocrisy."
Barber was in court testifying with regard to the voting rights lawsuit Monday, and a request for comment was not immediately returned.
It is not unusual for high-profile individuals to be paid for speaking to large groups. For example, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson commands a fee in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, according to the Washington Speakers Bureau, which also lists speakers who command fees in excess of $40,000.
Money for organizing?
Harnett also claimed that unions have spent more than $1 million to pay people associated with the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina.
"But even more important and even more troubling, one of the groups backing Moral Mondays, a group you probably have never heard of, Action NC, received at least $1.2 million from the Service Employees International Union, otherwise known as SEIU, to organize Moral Mondays in 2014 alone."
He also remarked, "We're also release the most concrete evidence to date that unions are paying people to protest on Moral Mondays."
Like the assertion about Barber, this claim is based on disclosure forms filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. In particular, a disclosure form filed by the Carolina Workers Organizing Committee shows SEIU paying $1.5 million to CWOC. The Carolina Workers Organizing Committee is a group that has organized fast food workers to press for better wages.
In turn, CWOC paid $1.2 million to Action NC, a liberal nonprofit based in North Carolina for "payroll services." Similar transactions were reflected in 2013.
Action NC is a particular bugaboo for Republicans because the group has ties to Blueprint NC, a liberal group that was involved in a dust-up over plans to criticize Republican office-holders and policies.
The Republicans' "Immoral Mondays" supporting documents also point to $18,156 paid to Pleasant Garden, N.C.-based Fusion Films, which has produced documentaries related to the Moral Monday protests, as well as other payments that appear to have gone toward T-shirts and office expenses that total just over $11,000 to North Carolina-based vendors.
Calls and emails to SEIU's national headquarters weren't immediately returned on Monday, nor were calls to individuals listed on U.S. Department of Labor forms as contacts for CWOC. However, Action NC did respond to requests for more information, including a formal written statement.
"Had anyone from the NC GOP bothered to ask, we could have very easily explained the nature of the contractual relationship between us and SEIU," said Kevin Rogers, policy and public affairs director for the group. "Instead, the NC GOP took publicly available records without any context, concocted their own off-the-wall explanation and attempted to pass-off those lies as fact."
With regards to the payments from CWOC, Rogers said, the money listed as for "payroll services" was for payroll services.
"Action NC had, and continues to have, a contract with SEIU to provide back-end payroll and HR services to the staff of the Carolina Workers Organizing Committee. We do not mange, direct, or in any way supervise those employees. Any questions pertaining to the duties of these individual employees should be directed to CWOC," he said.
The money paid covered both administration fees as well as money paid to CWOC's employees, he said.
As for Action NC itself, Rogers said, "We are in the business of building stronger communities, but this does not include paying anyone to attend Moral Monday events or any other events, for that matter. Our members are volunteers and receive no financial compensation for their participation."
Diaz described Rogers' response as "spin" from Action NC.
"With this statement, they have, in fact, confirmed that they are indeed a part of Moral Mondays and are funded by the out-of-state unions just like we said. But they not-so-subtly dodged what this money from out-of-state union bosses was and is used for," he said. "Again, Moral Mondays has been bought and paid for by the out-of-state unions to advance their agenda in NC."
Diaz later sent along a picture of men holding SEIU-branded signs at the Moral Monday protest in Winston-Salem on Monday. The signs read "Respect Human Rights."
Harnett and Diaz made a number of claims in their news conference and website. WRAL News did not try to fact check all of them or rule on clearly hyperbolic statements that attributed motives to others, such as union organizers wishing to undermine voting laws so their workers could somehow cheat in North Carolina elections.
However, two claims were clearly substantiative and based, at least partially, on a document trail that we could verify, and those are the two points upon which this fact check focused. Those two claims merit two different ratings on our fact-checking scale.
SPEECHES: If Harnett and Diaz had merely made the case that Barber was getting paid by unions to give speeches at the same time he was advocating on behalf of causes that aligned with those unions' interests, this claim would have gotten a green light on our fact-checking scale. However, the GOP has emphasized that Barber "pocketed" the money while leading the protest, potentially leaving some listeners with the idea that Barber was being paid by unions to lead the protests. Because of the potential for confusion, we treat this claim with caution and give it a yellow light.
MONEY FOR ORGANIZING: To earn a "moving violation," the lowest rating on our fact-checking scale, the person making an assertion has to do so "with no reasonable basis in fact." That's not the case here. It is completely reasonable for the North Carolina Republican Party to draw connections between labor unions and the groups that participate in Moral Mondays. As Diaz's picture shows, union groups don't exactly make a secret of their participation.
As well, without input from CWOC or further documentation, there's nothing to show what the money from SEIU was used for or whether any of it was used in relation to Moral Mondays.
However, that doubt cuts both ways, and Harnett and Diaz both made statements that aren't fully backed by the evidence at hand. They say, among other things, that they have provided "concrete evidence to date that unions are paying people to protest on Moral Mondays." That's not the case. They can show a paper trail that tracks money from national union groups to a North Carolina nonprofit. The GOP can show that nonprofit is a backer of the Moral Monday movement. Whether union involvement in a particular effort is a good thing or a bad is a matter of political interpretation.
But the documents do not show that the money in question was used to pay Moral Monday protestors or organizers. At best, the GOP can argue that some $30,000 might have been used for T-shirts, signs and video services and the like, but that's a far cry from proving that the Moral Monday groups are "paid by unions to fight voter ID in North Carolina" or hire "paid actors to pretend to protest and to get arrested at the legislature." We give this GOP claim a red light for overstating their case.