Secretive SEIU network partners with Occupy movement, raises nationwide hell
This is the second in a Daily Caller investigative series. Read the first report here.
During the past year, politically aggressive front groups founded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been partnering with regional “Occupy” groups to pressure businesses and politicians, The Daily Caller has learned.
The organizations — including This Is Our DC; Good Jobs, Great Houston; Good Jobs, Better Baltimore; Detroit’s Good Jobs Now; Fight for Philly; One Pittsburgh; Good Jobs LA; and Minnesotans for a Fair Economy — employ “flash demonstrations” and other tactics to deluge their political targets with protesters, sometimes numbering in the hundreds.
TheDC first reported Monday on the secretive ties between these organizations and the SEIU. Their elaborate and sometimes lavish protests, some with expensive-looking production values, advance the giant labor union’s interests without exposing the SEIU directly to criticism from the public.
Since Monday, TheDC has identified another organization in this network: “Working Washington,” whose Seattle-based website mentions nothing about its SEIU ties. That site, however — like those of the other front groups — is hosted on a server that TheDC traced back to the SEIU.
In keeping with the SEIU’s pattern, Working Washington’s corporate registration filed with the state government in Olympia, Wash. lists Secky Fascione as its registered agent. On her LinkedIn profile, Fascione identifies herself as an “Organizing Coordinator at SEIU.”
The union’s connection to its localized network is clear. An SEIU-tied Washington, D.C. law firm incorporated each group. Founding board members are SEIU executives and organizers, and the organizations’ founding addresses match those of SEIU locals in each city.
TheDC’s investigation has also revealed numerous instances of these groups working in concert with local offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In November 2011, Good Jobs LA, a Los Angeles-based SEIU front group, joined forces with Occupy LA to demonstrate outside Bank of America locations. The Los Angeles Police Department sent riot police to the scene. Eventually twenty protesters were arrested.
A month earlier, Occupy Pittsburgh joined with the SEIU-linked One Pittsburgh to protest outside the district office of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The demonstration was billed as an anti-Wall Street event, but with SEIU’s influence it became a protest against Toomey’s “no” vote on advancing President Obama’s American Jobs Act legislation — a failed bill that would have benefited unions.
The Pittsburgh City Paper reported that Corey Buckner, a 24-year-old member of One Pittsburgh, said that while Occupy Pittsburgh and his organization aren’t formally connected, the two movements — in the reporters’s words – “go hand-in-hand.”
“We’re all here for the same thing,” Buckner told the newspaper.
More recently, on Feb. 3, 2012 Occupy Baltimore partnered with MoveOn.org and the SEIU-connected Good Jobs, Better Baltimore for a protest at a Wells Fargo bank branch.
“Make Wall Street pay — move your money to a credit union,” said MoveOn.org’s Mary Hill at the protest, according to the independent news outlet Baltimore Brew, which noted the presence of representatives from “Good Jobs, Better Baltimore, 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and Occupy Baltimore.”
Kristerfer Burnett, whom Baltimore Brew described as “a community organizer for Good Jobs Better Baltimore,” said the protest was the beginning of a campaign by what she characterized as a coalition of community organizations.
The SEIU, in general, opposes commercial banks that employ non-union labor and favors credit unions, many of which are operated for the benefit of labor unions themselves. The union maintains extensive negative online profiles of nonunionized banks, including Wells Fargo.
Partnerships between Occupy groups and SEIU-founded organizations extend to other parts of the United States as well. In mid-December 2011, a group of activists from Houston traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in several days of protests organized by Occupy groups and the SEIU-linked This is Our DC organization.
The “Texas Liberal” blog reported that week on an activist who “traveled to Washington with Occupy Houston and Good Jobs Great Houston to take the fight for economic fair play and the 99% to our elected officials and to the offices of the big lobbyists.”
Describing an Occupy DC blockade of Washington’s famed K Street where police arrested 62 demonstrators, the activist wrote that “[t]he first human chain was made up of union members, including a Houstonian with SEIU.”
Fight for Philly, another SEIU-founded organization, participated in the same weekend-long protest event. “Join thousands of 99%-ers who are coming to Washington, DC December 5-9 to take back the Capitol from corporate control,” its website announced.
“It’s time for the 99% to be a visible, peaceful presence on Capitol Hill. We’ll be offering free bus rides from Fight for Philly HQ to Washington DC. By day we’ll show up at Congressional hearings and the offices of K Street lobbyists, and by night we’ll crash in church auditoriums, union halls, and in tents around the Capitol.”
Spurred on by its December success helping to galvanizing anti-capitalist protesters, including Occupy groups, This Is Our DC dispatched several hundred angry protesters in February to a Marriott hotel in Washington to “confront” attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference. The protest was organized by the SEIU front group, but billed in many places as an Occupy DC event.
“Several hundred protesters have traveled from [sic] to D.C. from cities like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York,” a press release from This Is Our DC read. “The demonstrators first came together at the Take Back the Capitol week of protests. At CPAC they stand together again demanding a nation that works for everyone, not just the 1%.”
The protesters wore new T-shirts, satin jackets and baseball caps printed with the “Our DC” logo. Their leader, John Butler, led the group in well-rehearsed chants. As they marched, their cadence was punctuated with a group of snare drums.
“What does democracy look like?” Butler asked through a bullhorn. “This is what democracy looks like” the group thundered back.
YouTube videos show the protesters at the end of their march lining up near buses to receive box lunches.
In the summer of 2011, This is Our DC staged what it called a “circus” on Capitol Hill, an event that coincided with an OccupyDC demonstration. The group arrived with clowns, hula-hoops and activists wearing multi-colored wigs, all aimed at mocking Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Working Washington put its allegiance with the Occupy movement more succinctly, with an October 2011 online article titled “Occupy Seattle, We’re With You.”
The article quoted a Working Washington activist who had just returned from a trip to participate in an Occupy Wall Street protest. “I see democracy in action at these Occupy events,” she said. “This is what democracy looks like.”
Circuses and occupiers aside, the SEIU shadow groups’ typical tactics involve unannounced “flash” protests apparently designed to disrupt and intimidate.
Good Jobs, Better Baltimore provided a vivid example on October 26, 2011, when the faux community group pretended to be an independent group of citizens — one that suddenly massed to target the CEO of a company that has angered the SEIU by failing to employ unionized employees.
The Baltimore group sent protesters, unannounced, to the corporate offices of Constellation Energy to target its CEO.
In a press release identifying itself as a “grassroots group,” Good Jobs, Better Baltimore said it “descended on Constellation headquarters in full Halloween spirit with a 30 piece marching band and five foot jack-o-lantern to confront CEO Mayo Shattuck III.”
The protest was a public objection to what Good Jobs, Better Baltimore said were “false promises” about a proposed Constellation merger with Exelon. Instead, the group proposed what it called “an $810 million community workforce proposal that could create more than 1,000 new green jobs in Baltimore” — a program that would benefit SEIU-affiliated union workers.
In the summer of 2011 the Baltimore group filed a petition with the Maryland Public Service Commission to oppose the merger. In its filing, it said it was “a non-profit coalition of community groups, labor organizations and churches devoted to public policy, education and advocacy.”
There was no mention, however, that the SEIU had incorporated it in April 2011. The group’s corporate filings with the state of Maryland list 611 North Eutaw Street in Baltimore as its address — the same building that houses the union’s Maryland lobbying arm, called “1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Maryland-DC Division”
A document obtained by The Daily Caller shows that those filings, formalizing the group’s incorporation, were submitted to state authorities by Vanessa Bliss. The Center for Union Facts, a non-profit watchdog, identifies Bliss as a “lead organizer” for SEIU.
In Pittsburgh, the SEIU-linked “One Pittsburgh” organization used intimidating tactics against workers and a company CEO to express its opposition to ExxonMobil’s purchase of two Pennsylvania-based shale oil drilling companies.
“EXXON, WE’RE COMING AT YA,” the group’s web site screamed in June 2011.
As part of their flash demonstration, a group of 300 One Pittsburgh activists suddenly descended on a local Exxon gas station and its unsuspecting workers. Panicked employees called the Pittsburgh police, who had to forcibly move the demonstrators from the property.
“Organizers said the franchise station, which is not owned directly by Exxon, was chosen for its symbolic value,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “Nervous employees called Pittsburgh police, who arrived to herd crowds off gas-station property.”
One Pittsburgh called the confrontation “a success.”
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, “Fight for Philly” used flash demonstrations at three Wells Fargo locations.
Last month on Valentine’s day, a roving band of Fight for Philly activists tried to enter a downtown Philadelphia Wells Fargo branch. Security officers blocked the doors.
“Officers then stood firmly in front of the doors, not allowing us to even step foot inside the building,” the organization complained a week later. “They even went as far as to lock two out of three main entrance doors and check the IDs of individuals who were trying to enter the building.”
Even in the absence of Occupy-affiliated colleagues, the SEIU’s networked astroturf groups have demonstrated a great deal of creativity.
On Feb. 15 the SEIU group Minnesotans for a Fair Economy brought 200 people to the Minnesota state capitol to protest a voter ID bill. Activists pasted $1 bills over their mouths, charging that they were being silenced by the proverbial 1%.
On the same day — but 1,200 miles to the south — about 200 members of Good Jobs, Good Houston suddenly appeared in the lobby of El Paso Corporation, a natural gas pipeline company. The protesters began playing a game of dodgeball in the lobby.
Good Jobs, Good Houston contended the company was dodging its taxes. El Paso Corporation, however, is in dire financial straits due to the collapse of natural gas prices. Its tax deductions for 2011 exceeded its taxable income.
The use of front groups is not a new phenomenon within the labor movement. Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, told TheDC that the SEIU has turned to the tactic to promote its messages because the labor movement itself is experiencing increased hostility from the public.
“Faced with an American public that is increasingly opposed to union bosses’ agenda that puts union politics ahead of taxpayers and individual worker rights,” Semmens contended, “the SEIU’s response is to create more front groups to provide the illusion of support for their big government agenda.”
Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog, adds that, whatever the reason for the SEIU’s new tactical toolbox, intimidating both workers and management is hardly legitimate.
“Any political organization that uses intimidation as a tactic is more appropriately akin to ‘Thugs R Us’ than to the tactics of a legitimate political movement,” he told TheDC.
Carl Horowitz, who directs the Center’s Organized Labor Accountability Project, told TheDC that the SEIU’s network of fake community groups is a sign of weakness.
“Why would a major union of over 2 million people put their own people on a board of non-profit organizations that seem to spring out of nowhere and that almost no one has heard of?” he asked.
“Obviously they’re in trouble.”
The Daily Caller has reached out repeatedly to the SEIU for comment. The union has not responded.