Labor Union Support for BLM Is Misguided

It was bad enough when the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and AFSCME Local 3800 (University of MN employees) felt the need to publicly proclaim their support for the occupation of the 4th Pct. by protestors.  Recently, the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) threw fuel on the proverbial bonfire by adding their support for the protestors citing certain allegations masquerading as “facts” that the MNA President described as “intolerable and shameful.”  

Labor Unions serve a critical role in advancing the interests of their members collectively and individually.  Their strength lies in unity – internally among members and in solidarity with other unions.  A Union’s obligation to its members often puts it in the unpopular role of defending members against false allegations and fighting to protect members’ due process rights.  Given that this essential function is common to all labor unions – regardless of the jobs performed by their members – the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis finds it “intolerable and shameful” that union leaders, who should know better by virtue of representing public service workers, would  repudiate these basic tenants of union representation and, instead, join in the false and inflammatory attacks against those workers who have chosen to serve the public in the profession of law enforcement.   

There is no harm for a Union to express concern over matters outside the scope of the working conditions of its members.  Unions have, from time to time, been agents of social change.  However, their voice is credible and relevant only when adequately informed on the issue at hand.  The statement from the MNA President demonstrates an appalling ignorance and/or deliberate indifference to the facts and circumstances surrounding the occupation of the 4th Pct.  For example, the MNA calls on the City of Minneapolis to “swiftly conclude the investigation” which is pretty much impossible since the City leaders had already caved to the protestors’ demands and farmed out the investigation to State and Federal agencies thereby relinquishing all control over the process.   Further, the repeated references in the MNA statement to the “peaceful demonstration” are also naïve and false, unless one calls the ongoing barrage of epithets, threats, rocks, spray paint and Molotov cocktails “peaceful” forms of expression.   Worse, despite serving as a representative of workers in the medical profession, the MNA calls for justice for Clark and his family while offering not one word of concern for the female abuse victim who lay injured in the back of the ambulance or for the safety and working conditions of the paramedics who, while attempting to provide care to the victim, felt threatened to the point of feeling it necessary to call 911 for police assistance. 

If the leaders of the MNA, SEIU or AFSCME had concerns about the Clark incident and/or the issues raised by the protestors, they could have reached out to their union brothers and sisters in the Federation or others in law enforcement who could have advised them as to the facts of the case and would have engaged with them in a meaningful discussion of possible responses to legitimate concerns.  However, they chose instead to publicly jump on the bandwagon of misinformed hatemongering that smacks of the same tactics that union members have come to expect from the right-wing demagogues who despise unions and public employees.       

Abe Lincoln once said “it is better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”  Unless and until the leaders of unions have a thorough understanding of actual facts and are willing to work collaboratively toward meaningful solutions to legitimate problems facing workers in professions other than the ones they represent, they would best serve themselves, their members and the labor movement by keeping their mouths shut.