A Charleston union leader will be the next president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for labor groups across the state that has been fighting anti-union legislation.
“It’s more responsibility, and I gladly accept it,” said Ken Riley, 58, who will also continue serving as head of the International Longshoremen’s Association, Local 1422. Riley has been president of the dockworkers’ union for 15 years.
State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said he considers Riley a friend and offered congratulations.
“Ken Riley is a strong advocate for those he represents on the waterfront and is a great partner of the port,” Newsome said.
Riley and the ILA have been vocal supporters of the authority’s plan to build a controversial new cruise ship passenger terminal, and support the SPA’s push to deepen Charleston harbor.
Riley is currently a vice president of the state AFL-CIO, and on July 1 will step into the president’s role when Donna Dewitt retires after 16 years in that position. Erin McKee, president of the Charleston Central Labor Council, is the other AFL-CIO vice president.
Dewitt, who was previously a lobbyist for the Communication Workers of America, said Riley agreed to assume more duties and has shown that he can bring together different union groups, despite racial and political differences among labor groups.
“He’s a good man and a good leader, and he has really connected with the movement,” said Dewitt. “That’s not easy to do.”
Unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO represent dockworkers, utility company workers, employees at large industrial plants, delivery truck drivers, postal workers, musicians and others.
“Certainly, I look forward to representing everyone in the labor movement,” Riley said. “We think having a pro-business environment doesn’t mean you have to beat up on workers and crush unions.”
South Carolina’s status as a so-called right-to-work state has been in the news frequently due to an aerospace workers union claim against Boeing Co., which was settled in December.
In right-to-work states, workers can typically refuse to pay union dues at companies where workers are union-represented. Also, municipalities are barred from collectively bargaining with workers, preventing groups such as sanitation workers from effectively unionizing.
A bill the state House has approved would toughen anti-union measures, with new requirements for unions to provide detailed financial and membership data, under threat of large fines.
Riley said the AFL-CIO hopes to counter some of the anti-union attitude in Columbia. What the state should focus on more, he said, is making sure that businesses lured to South Carolina with generous taxpayer-financed incentives provide the expected jobs and benefits.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.