About a dozen trade unions plan to sit out the 2012 Democratic convention because they're angry that it's being held in a right-to-work state and frustrated that Democrats haven't done enough to create jobs.
The move could pose a larger problem for President Barack Obama next year if an increasingly dispirited base of labor activists becomes so discouraged that it doesn't get the rank-and-file to the polls in the usual strong numbers.
The unions _ all part of the AFL-CIO's building and construction trades unit _ told party officials this week they are gravely disappointed that labor was not consulted before Democrats settled on Charlotte, N.C., where there are no unionized hotels.
"We find it troubling that the party so closely associated with basic human rights would choose a state with the lowest unionization rate in the country due to regressive policies aimed at diluting the power of workers," Mark Ayers, president of the building trades unit, wrote in a letter to Democratic Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The decision by the building trades came after a vote by leaders of the unit's 13 affiliate unions, including the Laborers, Painters and Electrical Workers unions. Overall, they represent about 2.5 million members.
"There is broad frustration with the party and all elected officials, broad frustration with the lack of a union agenda," said Michael Monroe, chief of staff of the building trades division. "People are looking for outlets to express that frustration."
DNC spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said the organizers "look forward to working with labor leaders from across the country to make the convention a success."
"We were thrilled to have the support of local labor leaders including the (state) AFL-CIO for Charlotte's bid," Roussell said.
Despite the strong language in the letter, at least one of the 13 unions says it is still considering whether or not to go.
"The Teamsters Union has not gone through our own internal decision process about the Democratic National Convention," said spokeswoman Leigh Strope.
Monroe said the decision doesn't preclude individual members of the unions from running as delegates, and some of the unions apparently are still considering how to proceed.
Many of the largest and most prominent unions, including the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union, still plan to be active participants in the convention. And local labor leaders in North Carolina have praised the site choice.
But the angst goes beyond the trade unions. The International Association of Machinists, which is not part of the building trades, said it has also decided to skip the convention after participating for decades.
"This is the union that came up with the idea for Labor Day and this convention starts on Labor Day in a right-to-work state," said IAM spokesman Rick Sloan. "We see that as an affront to working men and women across this country."
Monroe said the unions are being careful not to use the term "boycott" because they don't want to damage Obama's re-election prospects. He said money is also a major factor, when unions are spending millions trying to beat back efforts by Republican lawmakers to curb union rights in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states.
"It would be disappointing to our members to see us doing business as usual, diverting resources that we know are scarce, when we should be laser-like focused on getting elected officials focused on the jobs agenda," Monroe said.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka warned earlier this year that unions would focus more of their energy and money on shoring up infrastructure in the states and less on boosting a single political party.
In the past unions have donated millions of dollars for sky boxes and other sponsorships that usually help underwrite the convention. But this year, the Democratic National Convention Committee announced it would no longer accept contributions from lobbyists, corporations and political action committees, including unions. Individuals are limited to $100,000 in donations.
The choice of North Carolina in February provoked immediate outrage among labor leaders, who said it was another indication that Democrats take union support for granted. But Democrats defended the decision, saying it's part of party's push to win crucial swing states in the South, including a state that Obama carried in 2008.
Organized labor and Democrats had a similar squabble over the choice of Denver for the 2008 convention. That gathering was held at the nonunion Pepsi Center and Denver had few unionized hotels. At one point, Teamsters President James Hoffa threatened to "blow up" the convention with picketing and protests if union issues were not worked out.
But the two sides ultimately struck a deal to staff the Pepsi Center with union employees.