Government union members who picketed outside Rep. Tim Scott's West Ashley office Thursday were met with a surprise: Counterprotesters, in numbers roughly equal to their own, toting pro-Tim Scott signs.
In all, nearly 100 people packed the sidewalk in front of the shopping center that contains Scott's office, spilling over into the pine straw beds and crowding around the Congressman when he arrived. The original protest, arranged by the American Federation of Government Employees, centered around Scott's support for a bill that would eliminate the automatic deduction of union dues from federal employees' paychecks.
"This has nothing to do with money, nothing to do with the deficit," said AFGE President John Gage, who came from Baltimore for the protest. "This is a straight anti-union shot."
Gage confronted Scott by saying that federal payment systems allow automatic payroll deductions for alimony and for charities like the United Way, but Scott was not working to remove those deductions.
"If you want to join the union, write a check," Scott replied. "You're telling me that the only way to get people to join a union is to have them payroll-deducted?"
Even in the claustrophobic crowd and the noontime heat, Scott kept his cool, rarely raising his voice except when the sloganeering got too rowdy.
"Amen!" shouted several pro-Scott ralliers when Scott said he encouraged profit.
"It's not yours! You didn't earn it!"
"Look at Tim," said Johns Island resident KC Lombard, watching the freshman representative field increasingly hostile questions from AFGE members. "Agree or disagree, how cool is that?"
In the pro-Scott camp, there were grumblings about communism and regular expressions of Nobama sentiment.
Many of the pro-Scott picketers showed up in T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the 9-12 Project, a loose collective of Glenn Beck-inspired conservative meet-up groups. Linda Ensor, a Summerville member of the Lowcountry 9-12 Project, said her group did not receive a warm welcome from AFGE members when they arrived.
"They told us to get out of their face, and I said, 'Wait a minute, this is a public place,'" Ensor said.
While the payroll-deduction bill took center stage, AFGE members had other concerns, too. Beaufort resident Sue Partridge, a motor vehicle operator at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island who brought her granddaughter along for the protest, said she opposed a two-year raise freeze that had been placed on her salary. Meanwhile, her insurance costs continue to rise every year.
"Every year we're making less money," Partridge said.