Labor unions struggled for many long years to earn the right to organize, often in the face of violent opposition. Given that reality, one would think a union as militant as UNITE-HERE Local 11 would be the first to defend and respect the 1st Amendment rights of others.
And one would be wrong.
When a coalition of business and civic leaders held a press conference on March 23 to announce their opposition to a Resort unions-led initiative to impose an $18 minimum wage on a number of Anaheim Resort businesses, an unruly mob of mostly UNITE-HERE members crashed the event with the express intention of disrupting it.
Before the press conference even began, the union protesters physically took over half the staging area for the press conference, preventing coalition members from participating in their own event. They shouted, yelled and otherwise intentionally disrupted the press conference, and generally did their level best to prevent their fellow citizens from exercising their free speech rights. The fascist behavior continued after the press conference ended: when Channel 4 tried to interview Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament, UNITE-HERE members swarmed the interview and shouted over Ament.
Leading the pack was Shakeel Syed, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development. OCCORD is a left-wing advocacy group formed, funded and housed by the militant hotel workers union UNITE-HERE Local 11. Where UNITE-HERE goes, OCCORD follows.
I asked Syed why he was interfering with their 1st Amendment rights instead. Syed’s responded by saying “Fuck you” and accusing me of having “blood on my hands.” He rattled a piece of candy, telling me to “suck on my candy” in order to “calm down.” Mind you, I wasn’t yelling at the top of my lugs in a deliberate attempt to prevent another person from having their say. I pointed out that when the Resort unions held their press conference earlier in the month at the same spot, opponents didn’t interfere with it. This provoked another hot-tempered stream of verbal abuse from Syed.
Joese Gloria chimed in that what the union mob was doing was “democracy in action.” That’s an interesting perspective. Most people think democracy in action is reasoned, often impassioned debate and voting to select our government representatives – not crashing a peaceable gathering of political opponents with the intent of shutting them up.
That’s the revolutionary mentality for you.
One union protesters said to me, “You say democracy is about voting. Then why are you trying to keep people from voting?” When told her that nobody is trying to prevent anyone from voting, she segued into the equally preposterous assertion that more than half of Anaheim residents made poverty wages working at Disneyland.
While ugly, wrong and thuggish, the mob behavior wasn’t surprising nor unprecedented. It was UNITE-HERE Local 11 that literally shut down an Anaheim City Council meeting in December 2015 when it did not get its way on drawing the city council districts map. The mob of union members became so unruly and disruptive that Mayor Tom Tait adjourned the meeting without taking action on the bulk of the council’s agenda. So much for the rights of those who had business before the council, or even the ability of an elected body to carry out its duties.
UNITE-HERE Local 11 leader Ada Briceno vowed to do it again unless its chosen “People’s Map” were adopted. Briceno never had to carry out that threat, as the council complied.
OCCORD’s Syed also has a history of supporting anti-free speech thuggism: in his prior incarnation as executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, he was an oustpoken supporter of the UCI Muslim Student Union members who in 2011 disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in an attempt to silence him. Free speech for me, but not for thee.
Throughout the anti-$18 wage press conference, Syed was unapologetic for his aggressive disruption of the event.
After ambushing and disrupting the opposition’s press conference, UNITE-HERE Local 50 organizer Joseph Murphy led his minion a few feet away to hold their own drum-circle-cum pep rally. No one harassing, disrupting, shouting, yelling and otherwise trying to make it impossible for them to have their gathering – a stark contrast to their contempt for the rights of others express opposing views.
One union protester threatened to “take me down” as I filmed their pep rally; others stuck signs in front of my camera: