Fwd: GReps: Nader Supporter Censured...18nov01...IMC

Martin Zehr m_zehr at SPAMhotmail.com
Fri Jan 19 16:37:28 MST 2001

>AFL-CIO censures political director for personally supporting Ralph Nader
>by Sascha D. Meinrath 6:46pm Thu Jan 18 '01 meinrath at urbana.indymedia.org
>Wednesday evening the Executive Board of the Champaign County AFL-CIO, in
>response to a complaint lodged by a fellow AFL-CIO member, decided to
>censure Dave Johnson, Political Director and Vice President of the
>Champaign County AFL-CIO, for publicly supporting the Green Party during
>the 2000 presidential election.
>A House Divided? AFL-CIO censures political director for personally
>supporting Ralph Nader
>by Sascha D. Meinrath -- Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (IMC)
>January 18, 2001 (Champaign, Illinois)
>At 10:00 p.m. Wednesday evening, after five hours of deliberations, the
>Executive Board of the Champaign County AFL-CIO, in response to a complaint
>lodged by a fellow AFL-CIO member, decided to censure Dave Johnson,
>Political Director and Vice President of the Champaign County AFL-CIO, for
>publicly supporting the Green Party during the 2000 presidential election.
>"The Executive Board of the Champaign County AFL-CIO, by unanimous action
>has found Brother Dave Johnson in violation of its constitution and bylaws.
>It is the decision of the Executive Board to censure Brother Johnson for
>engaging in activities contrary to the best interest of the Central Labor
>Mr. Johnson, a member of Champaign Carpenters Local 44, reached at his home
>for comment, said that the 'activities contrary to the best interest of the
>Central Labor Council' he was found guilty of were "open to interpretation"
>and that no explicit guidelines existed to the best of his knowledge.
>Over 50 concerned union and community members showed up to observe the
>trial before the Executive Board. However, the Board decided, in a meeting
>held while people were waiting for the trial to start, to move the
>proceeding to a closed-door session and not allow the general public or
>press to observe the proceedings.
>Mike Klein, Illinois State Director of the AFL-CIO, made the announcement
>to those gathered to observe the trial, "It's an internal matter; a private
>matter. Corporate America doesn't open its doors to anyone who wants to
>walk in…The [AFL-CIO] Board is not compelled to open it up to everyone and
>they chose not to." Two AFL-CIO Illinois Central Labor Council Delegates
>were allowed in as observers, Doug Baker, of the Carpenters Local 44, and a
>Stagehand Union member, Jeff Reeder. However, other delegates stated they
>were turned away because they "could not prove they were official
>delegates" and because the room where the trial was held was already
>"over-full." One Carpenters Local 44 member described the entire process as
>a "kangaroo court."
>Labor organizer Peter Miller summed up the trial as a question of "whether
>or not [Mr. Johnson] was justified in making his statements in support of
>Ralph Nader even though he's an elected representative of the Central Labor
>Body of Champaign County."
>The overwhelming majority of public observers thought this was a clear case
>of an individual's First Amendment right to political free speech. Eric
>Seizmore, a witness called before the tribunal stated, "I felt I needed to
>support free speech and let people know that [Mr. Johnson] made it
>abundantly clear that the AFL-CIO was not backing Nader and was not
>endorsing Nader, but that he personally, as an individual choice, was
>deciding to support [Nader]." The Executive Board disagreed, concluding
>that Mr. Johnson had violated his oath of office as Vice President and
>Political Director of the Champaign AFL-CIO.
>Mike Griffin, a labor activist and Co-Director of the Warzone Education
>Foundation, an organization whose mission is to fight for union democracy,
>defended Mr. Johnson, stating, "Dave did absolutely nothing wrong. These
>charges have malicious intent. And smacks of the old AFL-CIO business
>unionism to control the voice of its members."
>The Champaign County Executive Board of the AFL-CIO and the charging party,
>Mr. Steve Brewer, the Business Agent for Plumbers Union 149 in Savoy,
>Illinois, refused to comment on the proceedings. Mr. Klein, however, agreed
>to be interviewed. Witnesses called before the tribunal described Mr. Klein
>as "aggressive," "biased," and "bulldog-like." Mr. Klein responded
>equivocally, "Well, that's their opinion, they have a right to it, that's
>what democracy is all about." He stated that it was his official role and
>responsibility "to see that the hearing procedures were consistent with the
>[AFL-CIO] rules and the constitution, keep decorum and fair play, [and] see
>that the hearing was fairly conducted, honestly conducted and that all
>sides were free to make a full and aggressive defense of their positions."
>Mr. Klein emphasized that the participants were not divided over free
>speech rights, "There's no question here, everyone in the room agrees with
>the individual's right to free speech, and to publicly dissent as an
>individual. The question becomes how much leeway do they give someone to
>carry out his or her duties [as an AFL-CIO official]."
>Jude Redwood, Mr. Johnson's council during the trial, interpreted the
>proceedings somewhat differently, "All of the witnesses and even the
>charging party felt very strongly that they did have a right to personal
>opinions under the First Amendment, yet these charges are exactly in
>opposition to the First Amendment." Mr. Johnson added that "the government
>does not have the right to go into your bedroom and neither does the
>Mr. Griffin was more questioning of the proceedings, "I think that union
>democracy was on trial. I think the First Amendment was on trial."
>Ms. Redwood stated, "The charges against Mr. Johnson were that he spoke and
>was quoted in the newspaper as a union official, and that the things that
>he said were against the official stance of the union politically." She
>further stated that the oath of office Mr. Johnson was found guilty of
>violating is "to support the views of his union in union business" and that
>Mr. Johnson "has taken the oath and has upheld his oath."
>Several witnesses stated that the proceedings often seemed to put Ralph
>Nader on trial. They complained that Mr. Klein spent time discussing Mr.
>Nader's shortcomings and asking witnesses to defend him. Mr. Johnson
>concurred and questioned the relevance of the issue.
>Mr. Griffin felt the purpose of the trial was to silence dissenting
>political voice among rank and file union members. "I think this trial was
>an exercise in authority [the AFL-CIO doesn't] really have. They feel like
>they've got to have a pound of flesh is they're going to keep control of
>the political arena and what their officers and members do and say. This
>probably does not represent the only case in America where someone is being
>hammered by top-down control of the AFL-CIO for speaking out politically."
>Mr. Griffin went on to say that Mr. Johnson has "received support from all
>over the world" and that thousands of people across this country have
>voiced their support for his rights. Mr. Griffin summed up his fear about
>the trial of Mr. Johnson, "If they continue this course they will turn [the
>union] into nothing more than a fascist organization that most of us would
>hate anyway."
>However, Mr. Klein stated that censure was the least harmful decision the
>Executive Board could have reached, "There was a strong will initially for
>much more severe actions…There was a strong will of the majority to remove
>him from his office, period; to expel him from the Central Labor Council --
>from the Executive Board and as an officer."
>Mr. Klein summed up the debate, "You get in conflicts at times about this
>principle of free speech which you can argue is a constitutional thing on
>the one hand [or] an oath of office that requires one to carry out [ones
>duties] in accordance with established rules and guidelines."
>In discussing why Mr. Johnson was brought up on charges, Mr. Klein blamed
>the media, "The news media is culpable here. They refused to cooperate and
>write [Mr. Johnson's] disclaimers. They refused to come here tonight,
>although they were asked to be a witness." When asked why Mr. Johnson was
>brought before the tribunal, Mr. Klein reiterated that it was "not his
>speaking that got him in trouble but the newspaper reporter who failed to
>think it was important enough to protect the integrity of Dave Johnson as
>an individual…And whether it's the reporter or his administrative superiors
>at the newspaper -- they refused to do anything to corroborate his
>position. Because if they had, even the charging party made it clear there
>wouldn't have been any charges."
>Ms. Redwood echoed Mr. Klein's sentiments, "I feel that it was really the
>duty of the reporter to print the disclaimer" that Mr. Johnson made at the
>beginning of the interview. Ms. Redwood was dismayed that the reporter
>"failed or refused" to take part in the proceedings.
>When questioned about why the public disclaimers Mr. Johnson made were not
>adequate to shield him from censure Mr. Klein stated that Mr. Johnson's
>public statements confused union members. "Well, what do members know?
>Members see their Vice President and their COPE [Committee on Political
>Education] Director speaking vigorously…and creating the illusion that we
>have this split decision on Vice President Gore and 'what was his name'?
>Nader? When there was indeed none. So that's probably what he got caught in
>more than anything, and the reaction to that." Mr. Griffin summed up many
>participants' perspective when he said that the proceedings were "to
>protect the AFL-CIO, and it doesn't matter who pays the price."
>Mr. Johnson stated that he would spend some time "reflecting on what to do
>next." He stated that he felt he had three options: to appeal the Executive
>Board's decision within the AFL-CIO structure, to sue in a court of law, or
>to accept the censure. He stated that while the consensus of those who have
>contacted him has been that he should sue, he was conflicted about which
>course of action would be best to take. "It's an issue of freedom of speech
>and union democracy [versus] accepting the censure and moving on." Mr.
>Johnson expressed concern that this issue not cause undue disagreement
>within the union but concluded that he felt "the leadership of the house of
>labor is dividing labor."
>Sascha D. Meinrath is a free-lance reporter and a director of the
>Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (U-C IMC). He can be reached at:
>meinrath at urbana.indymedia.org. For further information about this and other
>stories visit the U-C IMC website: http://urbana.indymedia.org.

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