The Head of the South Dakota AFL-CIO Routinely Posts Ultra Right-Wing Memes on Facebook

Hamilton Nolan

The Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen on March 25, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Duwayne Wohlleber is the president of the South Dakota AFL-CIO, a role that makes him, in effect, the highest-ranking labor leader in the state. Wohlleber is also fond of posting right wing memes on Facebook — recently, celebrating the Confederate flag, praising law enforcement, and joking about shooting rioters.”

South Dakota, where less than 7% of workers are represented by unions, has one of the lowest union densities of any state outside of the South. Like most places in America, union strength has been declining there for years, particularly in industrial jobs. It is not as though there is not a pressing need in South Dakota for stronger organized labor and the workplace protections it provides. The Smithfield pork factory in Sioux Falls became national news this year when it was struck with a severe (and deadly) coronavirus outbreak, a harsh example of what is at stake when it comes to workplace safety.

Though South Dakota is 85% white, the Smithfield workforce is full of immigrants from all over the world. Black Lives Matter protests have happened in Sioux Falls this month. It is fair to ask whether Duwayne Wohlleber is the best person to be the face of the state’s labor movement. Screenshots from Wohlleber’s Facebook page, provided to In These Times, show that he frequently posts right wing content, including many recent posts that decry that anti-racism protests that have been ongoing for the past several weeks.

This post about the Confederate flag is perhaps the most overtly racist: 

Other posts about race include a defense of Aunt Jemima, and one featuring Denzel Washington for reasons that are not totally clear:

This post seems to refer to shooting rioters: 

Some posts defend police: 

And typical culture war memes: 

Wohlleber, like anyone, is entitled to post whatever he wants on Facebook. But it is difficult to imagine that — at a time of national upheaval over police violence and racism, when the labor movement is trying to find a way to harness the energy in the streets — Duwayne Wohlleber is the ideal face of unions in South Dakota, where some of the most endangered union workers are non-white immigrants. 

This issue will soon be a moot point. Wohlleber is retiring this year, and he will be replaced by Kooper Caraway, a younger and more progressive labor activist who is in many ways the opposite of his predecessor. 

Wohlleber declined requests for comment for this story, saying I’m not interested.”

Help In These Times Celebrate & Have Your Gift Matched!

In These Times is proud to share that we were recently awarded the 16th Annual Izzy Award from the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. The Izzy Award goes to an independent outlet, journalist or producer for contributions to culture, politics or journalism created outside traditional corporate structures.

Fellow 2024 Izzy awardees include Trina Reynolds-Tyler and Sarah Conway for their joint investigative series “Missing In Chicago," and journalists Mohammed El-Kurd and Lynzy Billing. The Izzy judges also gave special recognition to Democracy Now! for coverage that documented the destruction wreaked in Gaza and raised Palestinian voices to public awareness.

In These Times is proud to stand alongside our fellow awardees in accepting the 2024 Izzy Award. To help us continue producing award-winning journalism a generous donor has pledged to match any donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,000.

Will you help In These Times celebrate and have your gift matched today? Make a tax-deductible contribution to support independent media.

Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. More of his work is on Substack.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.