CNA, SEIU come to blows in Michigan

The ongoing war between the Oakland-based California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and the Service Employees International Union might’ve hit a new low tonight at a labor conference in Dearborn, Mich. Find differing accounts of the fracas, in the form of the two unions’ dueling news releases, after the jump; as with so many things, the truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the middle, and the only sure loser is organized labor as a whole. (Full disclosure: I’m part of a Newspaper Guild organizing drive right now.)

UPDATE @ 11:18 A.M. MONDAY: CNA/NNOC spokesman Chuck Idelson — and, I presume, the entire CNA/NNOC — is angry at me for how I phrased the above entry, specifically, “dueling news releases” and “the truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the middle.” Let me clarify: I wasn’t at the Labor Notes Conference in Dearborn, Mich. at which this fracas occurred. Nor did I, as of Saturday night, have any independent, objective account of the fracas from a source other than parties involved in this ongoing CNA vs. SEIU dispute. Each union clearly has an axe to grind with the other, and so I must assume neither one’s account can be completely trusted without corroboration. I still can’t find any mainstream media accounts which aren’t predicated on the unions’ news releases; a dispatch I received yesterday from the Labor Notes organizers lays blame at the SEIU’s feet. Ultimately, assigning blame for the fracas will be the responsiblity of law enforcement authorities in Michigan. Meanwhile, I welcome the varied accounts of the matter which are popping up in the comments attached to this post.

UPDATE @ 2:05 P.M. MONDAY: Listen to an account (transcript here) of the fracas by Doug Cunningham of Workers Independent News.

Dearborn Police Sgt. Derek Hadder tells me no reports of a crime or charges have been filed, yet he has been fielding media calls from across the nation.

“It’s definitely been blown way out of proportion,” he said. “Once police arrived, they left without any problem… It was done within minutes, and I don’t know why it’s been blown out of proportion as it has.”

Labor Notes editor Chris Kutalik said although some SEIU members had attended the conference in good faith and engaged in principled, if heated, debate earlier Saturday, several SEIU organizers had used fake names to register for the conference. It was two of these who opened the hotel’s outer doors to admit some of the hundreds of SEIU protestors who arrived by bus Saturday night.

“Most of the crowd was pretty peaceful,” Kutalik said, but about 100 rushed the conference banquet’s doors. When conference-goers including Kutalik linked arms to block their way, “they started pushing us, knocking people to the ground – a number of those in front were really, really aggressive.”

A retired auto worker and former Labor Notes business manager was hit by “a guy who was flailing around,” fell and hit her head on a table, opening a bloody wound which required a trip to the hospital, Kutalik said.

“At this point the Dearborn police showed, it was about four officers, they didn’t make any arrests but they tried to get in between, get in there. It really started to de-escalate after that,” he said. “Honestly, I think it’s just inexplicable. I understand the depths of their anger… but I think this was really just above and beyond anything we would’ve anticipated. … I wouldn’t have believed this if I had read about it somewhere else, it’s pretty shocking to us.”

Some have criticized the SEIU for consolidating its authority by merging workers into mega-locals and pursuing labor-management partnership deals, a trend at odds with the philosophy of union democracy – a more grassroots, rank-and-file-driven approach to organizing – espoused by Labor Notes. The magazine’s most recent edition carried an article about dissent within the SEIU, as well as another about the recent dustup between CNA/NNOC and SEIU in Ohio.

From the CNA/NNOC:

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee tonight condemned a brutal assault by busloads of purple cloaked staff of the Service Employees International Union who smashed into a conference of union members Saturday night in Dearborn, Mi. and physically assaulted women and union members who stood in their path.

“I am deeply concerned about this heightened attack on women and nurses, directed by SEIU President Andrew Stern,” said CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, who was scheduled to speak about the campaign for genuine healthcare reform at the banquet.

DeMoro cancelled 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.

“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 said.
In Dearborn Saturday night, at least seven busloads, carrying up to 500 SEIU staff in purple jackets and T-shirts drove up to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the banquet was being hosted by the magazine Labor Notes 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.

At least one woman, a retired auto worker and former business manager for Labor Notes, was injured and went to the hospital after being pushed to the floor and hitting her head on a table.

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.”

DeMoro noted that irony of the attack on a conference, in which union democracy was a major topic, coinciding 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.

And, from the SEIU:

Dearborn, MI—Hundreds of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members from across the country joined in protest tonight, renouncing recent actions by the California Nurses Association (CNA) to interfere in other unions’ organizing efforts. SEIU members made their voices heard during the Labor Notes Conference in Dearborn, Michigan, where CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro was scheduled to speak but cancelled at the last minute, anticipating the scrutiny her actions were expected to receive. Below is a statement from SEIU Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry:

“Tonight, SEIU members stood up for the future of the labor movement and called on the California Nurses Association to stop fighting with other unions and start helping us build a stronger labor movement to help all workers reclaim the American Dream.

“At a time when the economy is in a downward spiral, when income inequality and economic uncertainty are at record levels and when only 12.1 percent of the U.S. workforce has union representation, we simply can not abide by union-busting and member poaching between unions. Unions must stand united for the interests of working people.

“The more than 800 SEIU members who traveled to Dearborn from all parts of the country tonight would much rather be at home: holding their local state and national representatives accountable; going door to door to elect pro-worker candidates; and helping security officers, janitors, healthcare workers, and other service workers unite to attain a voice on the job. But CNA’s recent actions threaten the future of the labor movement for all workers—and we cannot remain silent.

“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. Emergency room hallways and days before contentious union elections are not.

“Our ability as workers, progressives, and labor leaders to ensure that unions play a role in mending the economic woes of our nation depends on our ability to grow and our ability to work together. Tonight we call on CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro and the entire labor movement to take a deep breath, to realize what is at stake, and to put the interests of working people ahead of union differences.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Union Democarcy

    As a member of SEIU, I don’t trust Stern with his stifling of workers voices, but on the other hand I don’t trust the CNA with it’s elitist membership requirements excluding all health care workers except RNs from its ranks. This shows that the state of the labor movement is poor. It is time for real working class people to take back their unions and push the working class voice to the forfront of the labor movment.

  • FloNight818

    Its about time SEIU responded in a big way to CNA’s union-busting. Nurses have watched, appalled while CNA ruined nurse union campaigns in Illinois, Texas, Missouri and Ohio. Now they are in Southern California trying to derail our SEIU negotiations. Enough is enough! If CNA would look after their own members instead of disrupting other union’s members, we would all be better off!!

  • Frankly, Josh, it’s astonishing that you would write that the “truth lies somewhere in the middle.”

    What is the middle when SEIU sends hundreds of people — they claim there were 800 — to break into a conference to disrupt it, break through the doors, and physically assault people with their intended target being RNs, mostly women, from CNA/NNOC. The “middle” is the people who were assaulted, from a variety of unions.

    If you don’t want to believe us, listen to what the conference organizers said in their press release:

    For Immediate Release
    April 12, 2008
    Contact Chris Kutalik 313-***-**** or Mischa Gaus 773-***-****

    SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION ATTACKS LABOR GATHERING CONFERENCE-GOERS ASSAULTED Dearborn, MI—The Service Employees International Union turned their dispute with the California Nurses Association violent by attacking a labor conference April 12, injuring several and sending an American Axle striker to the hospital.

    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.
    Dearborn police responded and evicted the three bus loads of SEIU International staff and members of local and regional health care unions.
    No arrests were made.

    The assault took place at the Labor Notes conference, a biennial gathering of 1,100 union members and leaders who met to discuss strategies to rebuild the labor movement.

    David Cohen, an international representative of the United Electrical Workers, asked protestors why they came. He said one responded, “they told us just to get on the bus.”

    The protestors included several members with young children, who had to be ushered away when SEIU tried to force their way into the conference banquet hall. Protesters were targeting Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the AFL-CIO-affiliated CNA. DeMoro was scheduled to speak but declined to appear after threats were made against her union’s leadership.

    Despite being welcomed to the conference earlier in the day—and given space to debate supporters of the CNA and the National Nurses Organizing Committee about neutrality organizing agreements—SEIU international and regional staff shouted down speakers at workshops and panels throughout the event.

    “Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line,” said Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes. “Violence within the labor movement is unacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.”

  • Zee

    I was a member that attended the rally on Saturday. After reading all the posts I must set the record straight. As a SEIU member I went to the rally to show solidarity for all my brothers and sisters in Ohio. I was surprised to be met by brute force when I was there on a PEACEFUL mission. All the members that had attended were there to have their voices heard and to peacefully execute our first amendment rights. Again I stress the word PEACEFUL. There were families with small children and many elderly members. If this was not to be a PEACEFUL rally would these members have shown up? I was shocked to see all the violence we were met with. One of the members from CNA was even so bold to strike against SEIU members even throwing a child on the ground. Before the day was over I shook hands with teamsters and UAW brothers in solidarity. They all agreed that we must take a stand against union busting. This was my first rally and I can for a peaceful rally and was meet with brute force and violence.

  • Solidarity Solidarity

    The photo! Good God! In the photo, the big guy on the right was protecting a young woman who had just been punched and beaten by attackers with labor notes badges. Her body is on the ground, below & ahead of him, where his eyes are directed.

    The man is a hero. But they weren’t after him. The CNA thugs and LN hypocrites who came out to attack the protesters beat almost exclusively women.

    The young woman on the ground was bruised up pretty bad, but the man you see on the right was able to protect her from trampling. Another SEIU member, also a woman, has a loose tooth where a large man with a Labor Notes badge which said “SUBSCRIBER” struck her in the face with his fist.

    Hundreds of Detroit caregivers joined Ohio hospital workers and their supporters in a NON-VIOLENT protest of Rose Ann Demoro. Demoro led a vicious union-busting VOTE NO campaign against 8,000 Ohio hospital workers last month. And she was Labor Notes’ invited keynote speaker – a union-buster.

    These SEIU members, several hundred women, men and children came to Dearborn to peacefully voice their dissent. They were physically attacked by Labor Notes and California Nurses supporter who RAN OUT TO ATTACK THEM.

    To see these white frauds from labor notes and the CNA run out to attack a group of mostly-African American women – low wage caregivers – just how low can you sink???

    And now these hypocrites from Labor Notes and the CNA, these wanna-be Trotskyites and pathetic Starbucks anarchists – whimpering goons who can dish out endless criticism about unions stifling dissent but resort to beating women when dissent comes to them – here they are. And now they have come to the blogs to blame the victims of their violence. It outrageous.

  • SEIUCleveland

    I was there on Saturday 4.12.08 (0.00 / 0)
    I was a member that attended the rally on Saturday. After reading all the posts I must set the record straight. As a SEIU member I went to the rally to show solidarity for all my brothers and sisters in Ohio. I was surprised to be met by brute force when I was there on a PEACEFUL mission. All the members that had attended were there to have their voices heard and to peacefully execute our first amendment rights. Again I stress the word PEACEFUL. There were families with small children and many elderly members. If this was not to be a PEACEFUL rally would these members have shown up? I was shocked to see all the violence we were met with. One of the members from CNA was even so bold to strike against SEIU members even throwing a child on the ground. Before the day was over I shook hands with teamsters and UAW brothers in solidarity. They all agreed that we must take a stand against union busting. This was my first rally and I came for a peaceful rally and was meet with brute force and violence.

  • Chris

    But if the Labor Notes/CNA folks “RAN OUT TO ATTACK THEM”, how come it looks like this photo was taken inside the hotel?

  • eileenRN

    I attended the conference for the first time ever and what I witnessed was appalling. While this conference, attended by many different union members from the US and abroad, should have been the perfect venue for intellectual debate and discussion regarding the issues at the center of this dispute, SEIU members at many workshops were rude and disruptive. These issues include neutrality agreements, business union partnerships and union democracy. There was an air of fear from SEIU-UHW members, expecting their local to be placed under trusteeship any day by Andy Stern, and fear from CNA Bd members who felt physically threatened. The simmering dispute caused cancellation of speakers from different workshops and events causing the conference organizers a major headache. The dinner was rudely disrupted by SEIU members who arrived in busses and it was obvious to me as I sat in the banquet room that they did not intend to protest peacefully. It was a situation that could very easily have gotten out of hand with many participants injured. In spite of everything, the event was educational and fun. Networking with other union members from across the world and figuring out ways to support each other’s struggles made it all worthwhile and I thank the conference organizers for their patience and hard work. I fear this dispute has done major damage to the labor movement when we should be spending all our energy fighting for good contracts and healthcare reform.

  • Luke Smith – RN from Ohio

    I worked hard for three years with my co-workers to get a Union at our hospital here in Springfield. Days before we were to take a vote, CNA invaded our hospital with lies about SEIU.

    The CNA got what they deserved. The way they treated my co-workers and I was insulting to my profession.

    So, what does CNA do to us RN’s when we attend the Labor Notes meeting? The lock the doors, deny me and my co-workers a right to speak. That’s wrong.

    Where ever CNA goes I pledge to follow them and that horrible excuse for a labor leader Rosy Demorals.


  • From the Girl in the Photo at Dearborn, Michigan

    I am an organizer with SEIU 1199 WOK who was at the protest in Dearborn. I am from a union family. My dad is a nurse, and an SEIU member. I have seen my picture posted on the internet today, and used against me, my union and the people I care about. I want to tell you my story.

    I have worked on the campaign to help CHP workers win fair organizing rules from their boss since I started working at the local in June, 2005. Knowing what it meant for the caregivers, housekeeping staff, maintenance workers, and all the other people I know who have been fighting for their union for three years – to watch that all go up in smoke due to the unprincipled union-busting of Rose Ann Demoro’s CNA was just beyond upsetting. I drove up to Dearborn, Michigan to protest the fact that an organization that says it’s committed to union democracy was honoring the architect of this union-busting as the keynote speaker at their banquet. And I wanted the real union people at the Labor Notes conference to hear what happened in Ohio, not the barrage of lies the California Nurses Association keeps putting out everywhere.

    On the bus on the way to the rally, bus captains read a set of ground rules stressing our total commitment to non-violence. I planned on walking into the meeting room and protesting the CNA’s union busting in Ohio. Our group included many women and a lot of people brought their children. None of us imagined we would be assaulted by the men at the Labor Notes conference!

    Once I was off the bus, we marched up to the locked glass doors and chanted. My sign was pressed up against the glass and I was watching a group of people with Labor Notes name tags pool together to watch us. We were all pressed up there for about a minute when someone opened the doors. I entered through the second set of doors and was heading toward the banquet room. Our plan, and my own goal, was to march peacefully into the board room and support our CHP Sisters as they spoke and handed out literature about their stolen right to vote for their union.

    However, the CNA’s supporters in the room ran out to confront us and used physical force to prevent our group from entering the ballroom and voicing our dissent. After only a few feet I found myself dodging out of the way of getting tackled. They started to attack us. I ran past about three men who tried to stop me by tackling me. I was about 10 feet away from the ballroom room door at the point that I was slammed into the ground. A man twice my size tackled me (a football tackle) and used his weight to hold me on the ground to prevent me from reaching the door. My head slammed into the floor and I could hardly breathe from the impact. I am only 115 pounds so to have a man twice my size tackle me like a linebacker was something I never expected. Frank Hornick, another 1199 WOK staffer, came to my aid. The widely circulated photo of Frank (http://labornotes.org/files/images/seiuprotest.280.jpg) was taken moments before he helped me – what you can’t see in the picture was me on the floor being pinned down in front of Frank. Then all I could see were the shoes of the man that was trying to hold Frank back from freeing me. Frank pushed the guy off of me and I was able to take two steps forward until I was thrown on the ground again. Another man grabbed the hood of my sweatshirt and ripped me down on the carpet. My skull hit the ground before my feet did. I couldn’t breathe again. The neck of my sweatshirt was used to ground me. It was strangling me. He had a Labor Notes badge on, which is all I could see from the ground. My throat ached, and my necklace cut my neck. My hand was gashed and bleeding. I just remember pain after that. An organizer (and former member), Pam Callaham, pulled me back up off the ground by holding on to both of my shoulders. Once I was up again it only took a couple steps to be at the door.

    Two days after this happened, I feel like I was run over by a truck. I still want to speak out about the CNA’s union-busting. I won’t be scared off by these thugs. I still want the Labor Note people to know who they invited to speak to them. Rose Ann Demoro – the union-buster.

    But talk about adding insult to injury. Right now, I just want to scream. A photograph of me being assaulted by them, and yelling out in pain has been posted on the web by CNA bloggers as fake evidence of OUR treatment of women! I believe it was taken in the moment the Labor Notes or CNA man grabbed my hood. He’s behind me in the picture. (He did it from behind, I never saw his face, just his badge.)
    They put the picture here, along with the photo of Frank trying to get to me while I am laying on the ground. http://www.flickr.com/photos/17855870@N05/241134810

    So, that’s the story of the girl in the photo. Hurt or not — I will not be silenced by the California Nurses, Labor Notes or anyone else.

    Rachael A. Holland
    Organizer, SEIU/District 1199 WV/OH/KY

  • CinciJames

    For the record I am an organizer for SEIU in Ohio. They may be my employer, but they don’t dictate what’s right and what’s wrong for me, I can do that for myself. Union Busting is WRONG! No matter how you slice it, whether it’s the CNA or Wal-Mart!

  • oh please

    Read the two identical comments above. Apparently this is the official purplized version of the truth sent out today for the purple kool-aid squad to post to every blog they can find reporting what really happened.

    This entire thing was PLANNED. Two SEIU staffers registered under false names to be inside the hall and open the doors for a cadre of SEIU STAFF set to rush in and shout down DeMoro. One of those staffers was bragging outside the event about having thrown the first punch.

  • WVLynn

    I drove several of my members there Sat from Cincy, OH, they wanted to go and show their solidarity with their union brothers and sisters. Most of the blogs I read want people to think that SEIU staff were only in attendance but they are soooo wrong. The largest group of purple shirts were MEMBERS, and they wanted their voice heard.

    CNA is openly committing union busting in many states and our members are just as committed to following them and voicing their DISGUST.

  • CinciJames

    If this was nothing but violence by “SEIU STAFF”, where were the arrests? Don’t people usually get arrested for rioting in the lobby of a Hyatt, randomly beating on defenseless old ladies and nurses. Unless the Dearborn police force are in on it too. Just like the Los Angeles police; see


    As for my previous comment. Did the CNA, or did they not, spent thousands of dollars to run a “Vote NO” campaign in Ohio stripping 8000 workers the right to unionize?
    Let’s see. Who else run’s “vote no” campaigns? Management, that’s who. The CNA should be ashamed of themselves. They are quickly becoming a modern day version of the Pinkertons.

  • David McCullough

    Flo, Zee, Eileen, Luke, Rachael, my brothers and sisters–you want to fight the boss and you think someone is getting in the way. So what are you going to do? Waste you energy and political capital fighting other unionists? If you have a better case to make, make it–one to one at the workplace. Organizing is about talking to people about their lives, how to make life better with cooperation, information and joint action. Do you think that driving up to Dearborn to protest at the biannual celebration of union democracy is worth your time? Do you know anything about Labor Notes, whose conference you wanted to trash?

    Grow up, kids, it’s a long struggle and you owe it to yourself not to be used as a chump. Find out what’s real before you jump.

  • outraged

    CNA has crossed the line in a big way. They are an incredibly arrogant group who thinks that they know better than anyone else how things should be done. Clearly they want a monopoly over RN’s in the country. Today they are trying to bust SEIU, who will they try to bust next? AFSCME? any other union or organization that represents nurses. They don’t care how many people they hurt along the way so long as they advance their goal. I am outraged that Sweeney has not booted them out of the AFL-CIO.

  • Peg Rapp

    Just got back from a vacation, so I missed all the action at the Labor Notes Conference. While I have never been comfortable with the split in the laobr movement, like many people, I originally supported the unions who are now in the Change group — they brought in many new workers who had not been organized, many of whom were immigrants and low paid women workers who are among the most highly exploited. I also support the concept of organizing across job categories and structures that would shake up the bureaucrats in the AFL, who put most of their energy into lobbyists.

    However, as a supporter of union democracy, I became more and more concerned with Stern’s concept of bosses and workers “working” together — started to smell like sweetheart deals to me. At this point, I am not as concerned with official union turf wars, as making sure workers (all workers) have a say in the organizing and running of their union. And in this case, I frankly don’t know enough to know who that would be. Guess the only thing I can say is that all rank and file workers had better watch their backs and listen critically to both their union “leaders” as well as their bosses.