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Friday, May 19, 2006

Protest threat cancels Hillary visit to CT

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton canceled an appearance at the CAUSA 30th Anniversary event planned for Saturday because of a planned labor protest over one of the event's major sponsors, ING insurance company, according to an AP story carried on Staten Island Advance.

The protest was planned by the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building and Construction Trades Council, the story said.

They were protesting ING Group Inc. because of its decision to not guarantee work for minority contractors and other Connecticut construction workers as it builds a new facility in the state. They claim ING initially committed to using labor union resources to construct the building, but later changed its mind, according to the article.

"The ING Group is the major sponsor of this statewide event and we plan to show that throwing a few dollars out for an event is not the only way to be seen as a good community neighbor," the group's president, President Charles LeConche, is quoted as saying in the article.

In the article, CAUSA's Executive Director, Carmen Sierra, said ING did withdraw its involvement and financial support for the event earlier this week, but the trades council then reneged on an agreement it made with CAUSA about the protest.

"This action by Charles LeConche is outrageous. We agreed to his initial demands, but it is clear now that he was interested in only creating a media event for himself. Mr. LeConche has caused immeasurable damage to the building trade union which has had to struggle to get blacks and Latinos in their ranks. This renegade action by Mr. LeConche to gratuitously cause damage to the Latino community will not be forgotten," she is quoted as saying.

According to its website, CAUSA (Connecticut Association of United Spanish Agencies, Inc.) is "dedicated to enhancing the general well being of the HISPANIC/LATINO population in Connecticut with special emphasis on advocacy, research and technical assistance through and with its member agencies."

While I'm not up to speed on the issue or what ING is doing or not doing to be a good neighbor (though its website is pretty clear it takes corporate social responsibility pretty seriously), it seems to me like a bad move for a trade organization to make its ultimate victim an event that celebrates the 30-year anniversary of an organization like CAUSA, whose mission is one to support Latino organizations ... and features a keynote by someone like Hillary, who regardless of whether you agree with her political views it's hard to make case that she is anti-union.

But, protesting seems to be the trade organization's M.O. I did a quick Google search for them and the top link is a call for protest against WFSB (CT CBS affiliate) for not agreeing to their demands. The same guy is quoted as saying “Contrary to what they lead you to believe, WFSB-TV Channel 3 does not support our community and our hard working families here in Connecticut." Saying something as strong as an organization "does not support the community" because of construction of one location seems a bit extreme to me. I know WFSB does a lot to support the community because I live in the state and monitor the media as part of my job. One of the great and generous things they do, for instance, is the Ch 3. Kids Camp.

Looks like the trade organization also had the help of a public relations/lobbying agency called The Dennis PR Group to support them in ruining this event. The agency is listed as the media contact in a press release on Hartford dBusiness News.

I think Mr. Sierra's words are dead on. Seems to me this trade union wasn't content with just getting ING to back out, as is reported in the article. Unfortunately, she is also right that he created a media event for themselves, and in this case causing a media event an affecting this event has apparently shown they have succeeded in their objectives, and likely won this fight. But, I'm sure the war is not over as this could cause a backlash from the Latino community who will be sensitive to a Latino event getting the short end of the stick in a union's effort to spread their agenda. Being in a small state, I know there has been a lot of interest and support for this event. I wish CAUSA good luck.

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