Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Deborah Burger Headshot

SEIU's Latest Disgrace -- Violent Attack on Michigan Meeting of Union Members and RNs

Posted: Updated:

In its latest deplorable action, the Service Employees International Union bused in hundreds of its purple clad staff to break up a conference of union members and activists Saturday night in Dearborn, Mich.

Ironically enough, union democracy and empowering workers was one of the themes of the conference, sponsored by the magazine Labor Notes, that SEIU and its President Andrew Stern attempted to close down.

With this latest act of physical aggression, SEIU escalated its campaign against registered nurses and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, many of whose RN leaders were at the conference, and whose executive director Rose Ann DeMoro was the scheduled speaker at the dinner attacked by SEIU.

"There is an ugly pattern here of physical abuse and tactics of intimidation that have no place in either our labor movement or a civilized society," DeMoro later said.

DeMoro canceled her appearance at the event to coordinate support for CNA/NNOC leaders in California after Stern and SEIU began sending roving bands of staff to the homes of CNA/NNOC RN board members in California Thursday and Friday, stalking and harassing them.

In Dearborn Saturday night, at least seven busloads, carrying up to 800 SEIU staff in purple jackets and T-shirts drove up to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the banquet hosted by Labor Notes was culminating a weekend conference on topics including union democracy, health care reform, and encouraging the resurgent growth of labor.

Upon unloading from the buses, the hundreds of picket-sign wielding staff stormed the hotel and pushed their way through doors to break into the ballroom where the event was being held.

While breaking in the building, the SEIU staff, now joined by SEIU staff inside the building, physically assaulted a group of union members and activists at the door.

As Labor Notes themselves noted in a press release: A recently retired member of United Auto Workers Local 235, Dianne Feeley, suffered a head wound after being knocked to the ground by SEIU International staff and local members. Other conference-goers--members of the Teamsters, UAW, UNITE HERE, International Longshoremen's Association, and SEIU itself--were punched, kicked, shoved, and pushed to the floor.

As the SEIU staff broke into the hall, some three dozen CNA/NNOC nurses and leaders, there to attend the conference, including Malinda Markowitz, RN, a member of CNA/NNOC's Council of Presidents, who was scheduled to speak in DeMoro's place, were whisked out the back of the hall for their safety, leaving in vans. The atmosphere was so tense that hotel cooks tried to climb into the vans to join them for fear of their own safety.

The evening assault at Labor Notes followed a day of disruption by SEIU staff at workshops throughout the day at which various CNA/NNOC members were on panels or participants.

"I am disgusted with the tactics of SEIU and their total disrespect for what was going on here -- members from multiple unions who were discussing an agenda to fight the increased corporate attacks on working people," said Markowitz. "It's clear their only agenda here was to disrupt and try to divide labor and workers. Physical violence is absolutely unacceptable."

"I am absolutely appalled, to have a union coming in here with tons of people ramming down doors. If they have these kind of resources, why aren't they using them to help people in the trenches rather than attacking nurses and other working people," said Danielle Magana, RN, an NNOC member from San Antonio, Tex.

"If I were a nurse here I would not join such an aggressive union," said Prudencia Mweemba, an RN from Zambia who is a PhD candidate at Kent State who was attending the conference. "What they did today showed me they are irresponsible. I don't see how they can represent people with such an attitude."

"Had I not seen this with my own eyes I would not have believed it," said Kimberly Helmick, an Ohio RN. "SEIU did a big injustice to all the labor movement people who were here."

The attack on a conference, in which union democracy was a major topic, coincides with growing efforts by Stern and SEIU International to suppress dissent in his own union and signing contracts with employers that limit the voice of SEIU members at the workplace.

SEIU contracts with nursing home chains, for example, have limited the ability of caregivers to protest and report unsafe conditions. Within SEIU, Stern has been engaged in targeting dissenters and seeking to limit participation at his international convention in June.

Another example, she noted, was SEIU's pact with a Catholic hospital chain in Ohio where SEIU had the employer file for an election to impose SEIU as its handpicked union for RNs and other staff. The deal also barred employees from discussing the election or the union. Ultimately, Stern and the employer cancelled the election when the deal was exposed in part because of CNA/NNOC criticism of the deal, the pretext of the Michigan attack Saturday night.

For more information about SEIU's efforts on behalf of employers, see www.ServingEmployersInsteadofUs.org.