Southern California SEIU Caucuses Call On AFL-CIO to Kick Out Police Union

Mario Vasquez

Although SEIU is not part of the AFL-CIO, organizers hope it will spark a wider discussion about the role police and their unions play. (Elvert Barnes/ Flickr)

In July 2015, the Uni­ver­si­ty of California’s stu­dent-work­ers union, Unit­ed Auto Work­ers (UAW) 2865, passed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the AFL-CIO to ter­mi­nate the mem­ber­ship of the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Police Asso­ci­a­tions (IUPA).

Now, after a series of meet­ings in Los Ange­les through­out Octo­ber, the same res­o­lu­tion is mak­ing its way through Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (SEIU) 721, a local rep­re­sent­ing pub­lic ser­vice and non­prof­it employ­ees in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Although SEIU is not part of the AFL-CIO, orga­niz­ers for the res­o­lu­tion hope it will spark a wider dis­cus­sion about the role police and their unions play.

The res­o­lu­tion was first approved by the African-Amer­i­can cau­cus of SEIU 721 on Octo­ber 6, and lat­er by the local’s Lati­no cau­cus on Octo­ber 19. The endorse­ments came after col­lab­o­ra­tion and pre­sen­ta­tions by Olufe­mi Tai­wo, a UAW 2865 mem­ber, and Julia Wal­lace, a mem­ber of SEIU 721.

When I heard about the UAW’s res­o­lu­tion,” Wal­lace tells In These Times, I thought this is great. This is a way for us, as union mem­bers to show our sup­port for work­ing-class peo­ple, but also to be clear that the police have played a role his­tor­i­cal­ly … not just [as] oppres­sors of Black peo­ple, Lati­no peo­ple, LGBT peo­ple, dis­abled peo­ple, but also against work­ers, against work­ing-class peo­ple as strike-breakers.”

Wal­lace says her goal is to get the res­o­lu­tion approved by the exec­u­tive board of SEIU 721.

I think the best thing is a politi­cized, orga­nized and edu­cat­ed work­force,” says Wal­lace. That’s the best thing that we could have, because even if it doesn’t get passed through the exec­u­tive board, then there’s a dis­cus­sion with­in our union meet­ings. Okay, so, what is the role of the police? What are we going to do to orga­nize against them? How are we going to protest?’”

The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Gar­ner and Fred­die Gray at the hands of police, and the sub­se­quent rise of the move­ment for Black lives, helped push the Black Inter­ests Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee (BICC), a UAW 2865 cau­cus, to write the orig­i­nal resolution.

The AFL-CIO did not offi­cial­ly com­ment on the res­o­lu­tion, but Car­men Berkley, the federation’s direc­tor of civ­il, human and women’s rights, told Buz­zfeeds Cora Lewis in January:

We are not in the busi­ness of kick­ing peo­ple out of unions … What we are in the busi­ness of is hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with our law enforce­ment broth­ers and sis­ters about how they can have dif­fer­ent prac­tices … I do think there’s a lot of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that needs to hap­pen between com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and law enforce­ment, and we want to be the bridge that helps them get there.”

When asked about Berkley’s remarks, Tai­wo tells In These Times, She’s pos­ing the issue as if what it is — is there’s indi­vid­ual vic­tims of police vio­lence and indi­vid­ual per­pe­tra­tors of police that need to sit down and have a mediation.”

If what they’re for is pro­tect­ing the rul­ing class, then it’s not an issue of medi­a­tion. It’s not an issue of rec­on­cil­ing indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences or heal­ing indi­vid­ual acts of vio­lence,” Tai­wo says. It’s an issue of rec­on­cil­ing our union struc­tures with what we’re try­ing to fight for as unions.”

Wal­lace says that as long as police side with boss­es” on the pick­et line and police unions unequiv­o­cal­ly [defend] the police mur­der­ing peo­ple” then they should not be mem­bers of labor organizations.

They can defend them­selves just fine. Their pen­sions aren’t chal­lenged, their health­care ben­e­fits aren’t cut, their rais­es con­tin­ue to hap­pen and ours are always on the chop­ping block,” Wal­lace says. Ours are always in ques­tion and there’s a rea­son for that. It’s because they defend the wealthy.”

The IUPA respond­ed to UAW 2865 short­ly after the res­o­lu­tion passed, with IUPA leg­isla­tive direc­tor Den­nis Slocumb telling Work­ers Inde­pen­dent News: It’s impos­si­ble to stand for the rights of work­ing-class peo­ple while oppos­ing the peo­ple in law enforce­ment. We are work­ing class. And we think this is noth­ing but a pub­lic­i­ty stunt for a group that’s strug­gling for some sort of attention.”

Slocumb not­ed that the res­o­lu­tion did not explic­it­ly call out any oth­er labor groups that rep­re­sent and bar­gain for police.

They don’t call on their own union to dis­gorge police offi­cers. They haven’t called on AFSCME, or CWA or any of the oth­er orga­ni­za­tions that rep­re­sent police offi­cers with­in the AFL-CIO. The Team­sters and SEIU, who are out­side of the AFL-CIO but cer­tain­ly labor orga­ni­za­tions, also rep­re­sent police offi­cers,” he said.

Mov­ing for­ward, Wal­lace says she hopes to get oth­er unions to endorse the res­o­lu­tion, while also orga­niz­ing a project to build a gen­er­al strike against police violence.

Peo­ple are talk­ing about this and it’s just the begin­ning,” she says.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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