Why We Demonstrated in Dearborn
by Dave Regan
I feel sorry for Stephanie Luce and I don't even know her.
As I read her piece, dated April 22, "The Future of the Labor Movement? Reflections on the Labor Notes Conference," I was surprised to learn that she claims to know me and apparently possesses insight into my character and beliefs. I have absolutely no recollection of meeting Stephanie Luce, let alone speaking to her, at a wedding we both apparently attended in 1994. I am also wholly unfamiliar with her academic work and career since then.
Her piece, which seeks to disparage me personally and my union SEIU generally by literally linking her fourteen year-old recollections of a cocktail party conversation with the events of the Labor Notes Conference is revealing only in that it makes clear the central issue for Luce is that her sensibilities were offended on the weekend in question by a group of SEIU demonstrators.
What is entirely absent from her account is this central fact regarding why SEIU demonstrators came to Dearborn in the first place: We came to protest the fact that the organizers of the conference had made a conscious decision to recognize and honor the head of the California Nurses Association, Rose Ann DeMoro, despite the fact that less than one month earlier she and the CNA had succeeded in denying over 8,000 hospital workers in Ohio the opportunity to vote to join our union. These workers had fought hard for three long years to gain the right to vote for a union to represent all workers in Catholic Health Partners hospitals in Ohio.
In plain language, DeMoro led the CNA and its front group, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, to execute a text-book, corporate-style union-busting campaign. They employed tactics that would make the most vicious management consultants proud. Not only did they do it, but they celebrated it and congratulated themselves for achieving the perverse goal of preventing thousands of Ohio workers from winning a Union and beginning the work of improving their own lives. And, there is a particularly nasty additional twist to the story. Most of these employees were workers that DeMoro and CNA would not even consider accepting in their ranks because they are not registered nurses.
The people who showed up that day to demonstrate and speak out in Dearborn were Ohioans like Susan Horne. Susan is a registered nurse at Catholic Health Partners in Cincinnati. We wish she was one of our members, but thanks to Rose Ann DeMoro and CNA, Susan Horne still doesn't belong to a union. Susan spoke eloquently about her experience in today's labor movement at the conference in Dearborn and in an online interview shot on the scene by the Labor Video Project.
What Susan has to say isn't easy for people like Stephanie Luce to hear. It's uncomfortable and it's inconvenient. It interferes with the larger philosophical and theoretical discussions of labor policy Luce would prefer to engage in and makes it a raw, real, personal matter about fundamental American rights.
Susan, and hundreds more women like her, came to Dearborn because they were outraged that Labor Notes would provide a public stage, legitimacy and awards to the leaders of an organization that celebrates denying healthcare workers the opportunity to have a union. And SEIU District 1199 members and leaders (who wish we could call Susan and her colleagues our union brothers and sisters) were outraged with them and stood with them in solidarity.
Union-busting is union-busting and, yes, it is disgusting. If Labor Notes and their apologists want to convince themselves otherwise, through tortured rationalizations about "democracy" or fabricated claims of "violence," so be it. We are having none of it. The votes, which were set to take place in March, would have been the largest set of private sector healthcare elections in the history of the state of Ohio. If the labor movement is to survive we need more, not less, of these sorts of breakthroughs.
I am a union organizer and proud of it. I am also proud of the fact that SEIU has succeeded in organizing over 1 million new union members in the past twelve years. I like the fact that we take seriously the challenge of working to help rebuild the American labor movement which, as we all know, is in utter crisis and desperate for innovative new models and strategies.
I am mindful that we in SEIU are far from perfect and that we make our share of mistakes. However, I take great offense when a "respected academic" like Luce sets out to diminish SEIU by engaging in casual insults about our integrity, relies on the cheap smear, substitutes lazy speculation for analysis and evidence about our methods and then wants to assert her concern for the future of our movement.
Luce writes in her piece "I wonder if SEIU has lost sight of the real battle?" If the battle is defined as creating an unaccountable debating society for academics and commentators to work out their own "issues," I plead guilty to failure. If, however, the battle is defined as rebuilding the American labor movement and raising the standard of living for millions of American workers, then I am confident we in SEIU are clear-eyed and focused.
Finally, it is our intention to continue to shine a light on the actions of Rose Ann DeMoro and the CNA. It is our belief they have forfeited the privilege of being welcomed within gatherings of principled trade unionists. If other organizations wish to host and honor the leaders of CNA, as is their prerogative, we will exercise our right to demonstrate and protest given their undisputed actions. If this results in some people being offended, that is unfortunate, but unavoidable. Last month my Union was set to accomplish something unprecedented within the Ohio hospital industry until the CNA recklessly and viciously campaigned to deny thousands of workers a union.
Today, Susan Horne is a registered nurse without a union. She knows it's Rose Ann DeMoro's fault and Susan has the courage to hold DeMoro accountable.
Susan Horne may not belong to our union yet, but we will stand with her shoulder to shoulder in this fight because it is about the heart and soul of the labor movement.
It really is that simple.
We in SEIU know where we stand. Which side are you on, Stephanie Luce?
Dave Regan is President of SEIU 1199 representing more than 27,000 health care and social service workers across West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.