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

Hamilton Nolan June 24, 2020

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.”

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH