COLUMBIA — A YouTube video showing the retiring president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO hitting a piñata of Gov. Nikki Haley’s face prompted the national union Tuesday to distance itself from what it called an “inappropriate joke.”
The video, filmed Saturday, features Donna Dewitt hitting the piñata of Haley’s face with a bat. The image of the Republican governor was surrounded with “hair” of purple and black streamers and a red crown, above her quote that, “Unions are not necessary, wanted or needed in South Carolina.”
People can be heard in the background yelling, “Whack her! ... Hit her again!”
The video circulated widely Tuesday in social media. The 40-year-old first-term governor even encouraged her Facebook followers to check it out.
“Wow. I wonder if the unions think this kind of thing will make people take them seriously,” she posted, along with a link.
AFL-CIO media director Alison Omens sent a statement saying there is no place for that kind of joke.
“There’s plenty to talk about in Gov. Haley’s awful record,” she said. “We do not believe that’s an appropriate joke – working people deserve a better conversation.”
Dewitt told The Associated Press there was no ill intent to the picnic game, which followed the South Carolina Progressive Network’s spring conference. She said it’s silly for anyone to interpret it as anything other than a game among friends. She stressed it was not an AFL-CIO event.
“We were just having fun,” said Dewitt, who is retiring June 30 after 16 years as the union’s state leader. “These guys all know for the last two years it’s been a struggle with Gov. Haley.”
The day-long retreat included a discussion on social networking and a reception to honor Dewitt, who is also the network’s co-chair.
Haley never misses an opportunity to lambast unions and considers the state’s low unionization membership an economic development tool. In 2011, union members made up 3.4 percent of South Carolina’s workforce, and just more than 1 percent of the state’s population as a whole.
Haley touts the state’s right-to-work status, meaning unions can’t force membership across an entire worksite as a condition of employment.
The AFL-CIO and International Association of Machinists sued Haley over her union-busting remarks, asking the courts to require Haley to remain neutral in union matters. But a judge ruled last August that federal labor laws don’t prohibit “the expression of political animosity toward unions.” And a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal earlier this month, handing Haley another win.
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey echoed Omens’ statement that “there is no place” for the piñata whacking “in civil public discourse.”
He went on to say “that video no more represents the people of South Carolina than union bosses represent our workers.”