Pr. George's Democrats, Labor Spar Over Grocery
Thursday, November 1, 2007
A deep dispute has erupted between union leaders in the Washington region and the leadership of the Prince George's County Democratic Party, a fight that highlights broader conflicts over both the pace of development in the county and labor influence in the party.
The fight began when a union member objected to a new development that will include a nonunion Wegmans grocery store, long-awaited by residents who believe Prince George's has been neglected by high-end retailers. The Democratic Party's vice chairman responded by rallying supporters of the development through e-mails, including one in which he wrote he was "troubled it appears that the unions are mounting a campaign to destroy our hopes of moving to the next level in retail."
Union officials say they believe his e-mails amount to a broadside against labor by leaders of a party that is typically its closest ally, in language they say suggests the unions might be racially biased against majority-black Prince George's.
Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, suggested the vice chairman had attempted to "cast the labor movement as a racist institution" that pursued different policies in predominately black communities than in predominately white ones.
Williams, who is black, said the e-mails sent last month by the Prince George's party committee vice chairman, Arthur A. Turner Jr., represented an "attack on the labor movement," one he believes was supported by party chairman Terry L. Speigner.
"As long as they remain leaders of the party and retain the views they have, we don't have a relationship with the party [in Prince George's]," Williams said.
Turner, who is black, said he is "confident that all will be able to sit down at a common table and resolve our disagreement. Family members sometimes have disagreements, and this is one of those rare times that a family discussion has become heated. He declined to comment further.
Speigner said he does not intend to resign and is working to resolve the matter.
"I consider any issues between the [Democratic] central committee and constituency groups to be a family matter that will be resolved internally, within the party," he said. "We'll work diligently to make sure our brothers and sisters in labor always feel like we take seriously their contribution, not only to the party, but to the country."
The dispute started in September, when Anthony Perez, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400, lodged a formal appeal with the Prince George's County Council hoping to block groundbreaking at the Woodmore Towne Centre development in Glenarden. Perez, who is a county resident, argued that the development and its planned nonunion Wegmans will cause congested traffic on surrounding roads.
Turner sent several e-mails to supporters encouraging them to contact the council in support of the 245-acre project, which is scheduled to open in spring 2009. A longtime supporter of economic development in the county, Turner argued the on-time opening of the eagerly awaited grocery was key to attracting other upscale stores and restaurants.
"Why is Mr. Perez fighting against those who live, work, play and pray in our beloved Prince George's County," Turner wrote in an email to a county discussion group. "Why is he acting to keep us in a subservient, second-class, substandard, marginal state?"