Labor leaders from around the state came to Columbia March 21-22 for the annual Legislative Conference held by the SC AFL-CIO.
Equal pay for women was a focus of this year's event. Orangeburg Democrat Gilda Cobb-Hunter presented a bill on the meeting agenda of the House Judiciary Special Laws Subcommittee. Members of labor groups and others filled the meeting room that morning in support of the legislation but it was not passed out. It appeared that the subcommittee chair, Rep. Chris Murphy(R-N.Chas.), intentionally stalled until the clock ran out.
The meeting had to end by 10 am that morning, according to state law, to allow lawmakers to take their places in the House Chamber by the beginning of that day's session. Rules do not allow any action to be taken on legislation in meetings while either body is officially in session.
Longshoreman Charles Brave spoke to the lawmakers with a deep, brave voice, as from the pulpit, "God is not one-sided, and when he created this he created male and female...and it's sad that not only in South Carolina but in this whole country, we have to legislate right from wrong." Brave asked the sub-committee, "What if I'm earning $34 an hour and my wife is making $20 an hour for the same job, how are we, how am I, going to deal with that?"
The legislation would provide equal pay for equal work and would give women legal recourse if their rights are violated. Some Republican sub-committee members actually questioned that point, apparently to assure that the intention was not to pay women more than men.
A motion was opened by Rep. John King (D-Rock Hill) to pass the bill. With the motion still open on the floor at 9:55 am, Murphy jumped to another agenda item, while his assistant “checked on a question about the bill,” but that new item was dealt with quickly with a few minutes to spare. The five-member all-male group appeared to be through with discussion at 9:59, when Murphy asked another sub-committee member, “Is time up yet?”
Murphy stated during the meeting that he had reservations about the bill because “it’s very wide sweeping legislation.” But judging from favorable comments made during the discussion, the bill would have passed 3-2 if it had not been stalled.
When the meeting ended the large crowd, including a number of women supporting the bill, were verbally upset and several people shouted, “Vote them out!”
Cobb-Hunter told a group of union leaders and others immediately after the meeting that the legislation could still come up again this session and that they should not give up hope.
Before they left to return to their homes around the state that day, those participating in the legislative conference took the time to write postcards to members of that sub-committee and the House Finance Committee, showing support for the bill.
SC AFL-CIO President Erin McKee said, "South Carolina is one of only four states without an equal pay bill. And when women make less it also means they will get less social security and less retirement."
After that meeting, AFL-CIO conference attendees were recognized on the floor of the house by Cobb-Hunter, during a pro-labor salute that took several minutes. She stood at the podium along with a handful of lawmakers.
Attendees also visited with their local lawmakers and warned them that conservative organizations are targeting South Carolina and a handful of other states to push passage of legislation calling for a Constitutional Convention, to allow for the rewriting of the US Constitution. Twenty-eight states have already passed legislation calling for the monumental action. SC AFL-CIO Political Director John Brisini says that only 34 states are needed to bring the “Con-Con” bill to a vote in Congress, and a favorable Congressional vote by 38 states would make it so.
Rep. Mike Fanning(D-Great Falls) said that he didn’t expect the “Con-Con” legislation to “get any movement this year” and that he even knew some Republicans who were opposed to it.
“But there are a group of a dozen Republicans in the House who would actually vote for it, so about future years, who knows,” Fanning said.