While local residents flooded the streets of Charlotte Monday ahead of the Democratic convention, union activists were trying to break down stereotypes and advance their cause by offering the public a chance to “hug a thug.”

The free hugs and “thank you cards” at the “Hug-A-Thug” booth in uptown Charlotte were part of several quirky features at this year’s Carolina Fest, an unofficial kickoff to the convention and a celebration on the side of Southern cuisine – pulled pork, sweet tea, fried pickles and all.

The North Carolina AFL-CIO, which ran the booth, said the set-up was meant to help crush the image of union members as “thugs” – a misperception largely perpetuated by Republican lawmakers, they said.

“We’re passing out free hugs to members of the public, reminding them that union members are hard-working Americans and we make America work just like they do,” the group’s communications director, Jeremy Sprinkle, told FoxNews.com. “We’re saying have a free union hug, bust the myth about thugs and together we make America work.”

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