[A few people have asked for the real deal
on the disruption at the Labor Notes conference by a group
of SEIU officials and members. Here it is, for those interested...]
It was a weird scene: busloads of SEIU officials
and members trying to bust into a conference of labor progressives
- bullying, punching and chanting in a scene that gave me
flashbacks to the Teamster officialdom of yesteryear.
I had heard that SEIU officials would storm
the Labor Notes conference at its Saturday evening banquet,
which would be packed, long sold-out. It was also the big
fundraising event for Labor Notes, something that
the organizers were no doubt quite concerned about. The SEIU
picked that time because Rose Ann DeMoro, head of C.N.A. had
been slated to speak at the banquet.
I told a few friends, including a Labor Notes
staffer, that the reports were probably exaggerated. But the
Labor Notes staff took it seriously, and made a statement
at the Saturday morning session, before Anita Chan and Baldemar
VelĂˇsquez spoke, that there could be problems, and appealed
to all to debate and discuss contentious issues, but that
no disruptions would be tolerated.
knew there were about 13 SEIU officials who arrived as a group
on Friday and registered. Two friends of mine had experienced
in workshops the obnoxious participation of these folks. One
co-worker told me they were rude disrespectful, but not at
the level of real disruption. I figured if they disrupted
the banquet, the crowd would spontaneously holler “respect”
or “let her speak” and they would be embarrassed and subdued.
Was I wrong.
When the invasion occurred, I was far from
the action. I was peacefully eating my salad with 900 others
(there were 1100 at the conference but the banquet hall couldn’t
hold all of them so they didn’t sell banquets past the limit.)
I was near the podium and far from the doors where the confrontation
My reports below are based on hearing from
careful observers on the spot; where they conflict with press
releases, consider the source. At least 3 buses of SEIU officials
and members arrived, either all or mostly from 1199 Ohio.
Some SEIU reps and organizers were recognized by participants.
A few in the advance line, at the point of confrontation,
wore bandana masks to avoid ID or pictures, but in at least
one case, an LN participant pulled the mask off the SEIU official.
There were 200 at most. The C.N.A. press release said 500,
and the SEIU press release said 800; so the C.N.A. exaggerated,
and the SEIU (they surely knew the number) simply multiplied
They arrived at exterior glass hotel doors
near the banquet hall. They beat on the glass and chanted
while hotel staff eyed them from inside, a bit removed from
Labor Notes participants, who were in the banquet room or
still streaming into it.
One of their inside people slipped past the
hotel staff and opened the door from the inside, and they
delay there gave some participants time to organize a thin
line of defense across the three sets of double doors leading
into the banquet hall. The doors were closed and volunteer
participants stood guard at them, some with locked arms. The
Labor Notes staff had recruited a number of these people,
including several long time Teamsters who have seen duty with
The advance line of SEIU staffers led the chanting
group forward and pushed and punched and tried to break in,
and almost did. My friend Dan Campbell had his glasses broken
from a glancing punch.
Several Teamsters and others who remember “BLAST,”
the “Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters”
of the mid-1980s, inevitably discussed the scene by way of
compare-and-contrast with that Teamster goon squad.
told me that they were a light-weight version of BLAST. The
conference volunteers managed to hold their ground, although
they were vastly outnumbered. Jim West, now a professional
photographer and formerly a Labor Notes editor, said they
were determined to break in and disrupt, and almost succeeded.
Several Labor Notes participants were assaulted
or injured. One was Dianne Feeley, a retired Detroit
auto worker. She was assaulted and knocked down, leaving her
face covered in blood. She was taken to the ER, but was able
to come back to the conference the next day. She
seems an unlikely target for SEIU officials chanting about
union busters, since Dianne had helped organize a couple hundred
participants to go to the American Axle strike line earlier
that day. She retired from American Axle a few years ago and
has been on their picket line regularly over the past 7 weeks.
Another BLAST parallel was the composition
of the SEIU force. It was led by officials, but many behind
them were rank and file members who had been “mobilized.”
A friend talked to some of them and found out they didn’t
know that they were brought to invade a national (and international)
labor event. One said they were told it was a meeting of union
busters. A few had children with them, so they were hardly
prepared for a confrontation. Minus the children, this was
generally the BLAST composition: the well-organized union
staff up front, and behind were rank and filers who may or
may not know who or why they were attacking.
I became aware of what was happening when I
saw from across the hall, the doors closed, but one came open
and SEIU signs and a loud commotion were at the opening. Simultaneously,
one of their insiders sneaked on the podium, grabbed the mike
and started yelling about union busters. A retired Teamster,
Gary Brooks, who films for Labor Beat, was up front and I
heard him startle her by telling her to put down his personal
mike “before you break it.” Two Labor Notes staffers escorted
her off the stage. The hotel wait staff passed the “assemble”
signal and abruptly left the hall, retreating to the kitchen
area to avoid any potential violence.
It was clear that they intended to muscle their
way into the crowded room and disrupt by marching, chanting,
encircling, taking over the podium, etc. In that, they failed.
Within minutes they left, chanting “We’ll be back.”
The SEIU press release on this disgraceful
disruption was other-worldly. Has Leebove gone back to work
for them? It states that “Open debate serves an important
role as we work to strengthen our movement. The Labor Notes
Conference is the right time and place to discuss our differences.”
Were they bussing in confused (a.k.a. “mobilized”)
members led by staffers to bust into a full banquet, to “discuss
They easily could have “discussed and debated,”
and their inside group did just that, though apparently not
in a way designed to convince, more to show how verbally tough
they are. The SEIU International could have asked to lead
a workshop or send a speaker.
The Teamster BLAST squad, which in 1983 did
break into a TDU convention and disrupt and delay it, also
issued a press release from Leebove saying they were there
Here’s who they were going to disrupt and silence,
had they succeeded:
If only those “mobilized” SEIU rank and filers
could have heard these folks, they might have found they had
a whole lot in common with the speakers and the conference
I thought the conference was terrific. I wasn’t
there most of Friday, but attended all three main sessions
and three excellent workshop sessions and was able to meet
and make contacts with some impressive people.
I know almost nothing of the flash point of
the C.N.A. / SEIU dispute in Ohio.
I certainly know the unions have been at odds off and on for
years. Whatever the merits of the SEIU International’s viewpoint,
sending a squad to disrupt a labor conference for the “crime”
of having the head of C.N.A. speak there wa s a disgusting
move, and a dangerous one if it continues to happen.
can’t help but think there was something about the gathering
itself that seemed threatening to the SEIU International.
I think De Moro is on the AFLCIO Executive Council, but I
doubt the SEIU will be disrupting there, chanting that John
Sweeney is a union buster for sitting with De Moro. The C.N.A.
is on good terms with the Teamster leadership in Northern California. Will the SEIU International be busting up any meetings
they may hold with De Moro present?
Their press release was headed “SEIU Members
Stand Up for the Future of the Labor Movement.” Doesn’t seem
like a future that I’m interested in. I saw it in the past,
and would like to keep it there.
Commentator, Ken Paff, the leader of Teamsters
for a Democratic Union, witnessed the SEIU
attack at the recent Labor
Notes conference. Click here
to contact Mr. Paff at Teamsters for a Democratic Union.