Laboring at the RNC for a More Imperfect UnionS

It's not particularly difficult to spot the members of the working class at the Republican National Convention. Invariably, they are in uniform. They hold tools that cost under $500 dollars. Most of the time, they are not white. Nobody who is not lost or looking to transfer irate Newtonian force to a rung below themselves speaks to them.

Omar Acevedo and Tommy Letourneau stood gazing out at the channel between the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Harbor Island, watching the police boats interdict more nothing for the umpteenth hour, looking like the loneliest people at the convention.

"We're union," Acevedo said. "International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees local 321. We did all the rigging for this thing."

The more matronly (read: less blonde and FOXy) volunteers providing delegate services on the upper deck of the Forum conspicuously gave them a wide berth as they passed. Despite being from the class of people that official speakers below invoked with a kind of totemic reverence, Omar and Tommy are in everybody's way.

"We're on standby in case something happens," Acevedo said. "Which isn't going to happen. There's a redundancy on everything."

Setup for the RNC took five weeks, in part because of the uniqueness of the job. Acevedo and Letourneau are based in Orlando, and they work on all the big shows in Florida, from Taylor Swift concerts to Ringling Bros. Circus. The convention is one of the most distinctive jobs they've worked.

"It's totally different," Acevedo said. "It's not like a tour where you put it together and then strike it at the end of the night and put it up again. This show's never been tried; that's why it takes five weeks. That and redundancy after redundancy."

Whatever the safety concerns, having union laborers hang out and wait for a disaster spoils some of the conventions optics, even up here where the Very Unimportant People are seated.

"I think it's odd to have the union here," said Letourneau. "I don't think they wanted us at all, and they kept our shifts to eight hours per day. Like, on the dot, they'd kick us out. No overtime."

Despite doing the setup for a political party that has declared open war on their kind of labor, both seem fairly positive about the experience.

"Our names are on it. It's pride," said Letourneau. "As soon as something messes up, it seems like everybody in the industry knows your name. Then they spell your name right. Of course we're proud of the show."

Acevedo had more personal concerns. In addition to being a union laborer, he was a member of an even rarer species inside the Times Forum: an undecided voter.

"I don't mind. I'm waiting for both conventions. I want to see what they have to offer about education. Both of my kids are in college, and I want to know what they are going to do about student loans. Both of them are going to have to pay interest on $127,000 And the fees keep going up. A few years ago, it was $68 per credit. Now it's $168."

Still, while Acevedo is willing to be moved on one issue, he isn't on board with the general Republican program, nationally or locally.

"[Florida Governor] Rick Scott is a monster on his own," he said. "He's messing with government workers' retirements. It's your people! Your government! How are you going to expect good people to work for you if you don't give them a good retirement?"

Behind Acevedo, the eyes widened on a volunteer blue-hair and a man wearing an AKIN button and a brass pin shaped like Missouri.

Acevedo and Letourneau or other IATSE workers—they don't know yet who will get the assignement—are stuck at the convention until the bitter end and the balloon drop.

"There were 100,000 of them," Letourneau said. "It took eight hours for all 100,000 of those balloons."

When they start falling on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, look for the union label.

Photo courtesy of Jon Wolding and JonWolding.com.