The Purple People Beaters

COMMENTARY Health Care Reform

The Purple People Beaters

Aug 14, 2009 4 min read

Former Distinguished Fellow

Ernest served as a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

That would be the purple-shirted members of the SEIU--the Service Employees International Union--who (literally) swung into action outside a town hall meeting in Missouri and became infamous on YouTube and national media.

"Town Hall Protestor Roughed Up by SEIU Members" read one headline. The legal system will sort out what happened to David Gladney, the victim of the attack. But public opinion will sort out whether SEIU is sending thugs to town halls.

The union "Purps" also turned out in force at President Obama's town hall in New Hampshire. SEIU brought its people in by chartered buses after getting special tickets from the White House.

And why shouldn't the president give 'em freebie tickets? He owes them! After all, the SEIU spent $61-million to help elect him. The union also set aside $10-million to push Obama's agenda in its post-election "Change That Works" campaign, and pledged more, including 30% of the union's resources and hiring over 1,000 workers in 35 states.

Oddly, that level of orchestration goes unremarked by mainstream media, while conservative organizing gets critical coverage. But liberal members of congress are well aware of the SEIU's resources and commitment.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) loudly refused to hold town halls, but instead scheduled a rally at an SEIU union hall. Many, like Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fl), have asked SEIU to be a "sponsor" of their town halls. "Enforcers" might be a better word.

One news account of a Castor's town hall reported, "Tractor sized bouncers (union thugs) manhandled the overflow crowd, injuring several. . . . Eyewitnesses report SEIU/ACORN members roughing up seniors, pushing little old ladies against a wall and literally tearing a man's shirt."

But now the SEIU's website newly proclaims, "Stop the Violence at Health Care Town Halls." It features an edited version of the Missouri video to create an impression that SEIU people are victims rather than perpetrators. Still, union members are now asked to take an online pledge not to be "disruptive or disrespectful" at town halls, and "to allow the opinions of fellow attendees to be heard even if I disagree."

Other unions have been household words for years; SEIU is quickly becoming one. SEIU led a breakaway from the AFL-CIO in 2005, bringing others like the Teamsters into its rival Change to Win Federation. Who are the people of the SEIU, who call themselves the "Purple Ocean"?

This spring the Associated Press dubbed SEIU the nation's fastest-growing labor union as it passed the 2.2-million member mark. The growth has come largely through mergers as SEIU swallowed up other groups. About half its members are in health care--hospital and nursing home workers especially. Estimates say 17% of American health care workers are now in SEIU. It would like to sign up the other 83%.

SEIU is also building a dominance among public service employees--clerical and janitorial workers in schools, bus drivers, child care providers--and among those who provide services to commercial property--security personnel and janitors in particular.

Its website declares, "56 percent of SEIU members are women, and some 40 percent people of color. SEIU represents more immigrant workers than any other union in the United States."

Strong-arm tactics are SEIU's strong suit, even outside town halls. In her book, Culture of Corruption, Michelle Malkin writes, "The SEIU seeks membership growth through aggressive 'corporate campaigns' that have a blunt message to employers, "Let us unionize your workforce or we will destroy your reputation." Its president, Andy Stern, sums up his leadership philosophy thusly, "We prefer to use the power of persuasion, but if that doesn't work we use the persuasion of power."

Stern told the Las Vegas Sun, "We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama--$60.7 million to be exact--and we're proud of it."

SEIU aggressively recruits workers away from other unions and has been accused of coveting the financial assets of the unions it acquires. SEIU needs the money because its National Industry Pension Fund is in big trouble. In April, it announced that the fund lacks the money to pay promised benefits and is in "critical status."

Its big-spending ways nevertheless have bought SEIU a seat at the table, especially as a major player in President Obama's push for a health care makeover. They have a lead role within the HCAN ("Health Care for American Now") coalition, alongside ACORN, the Center for American Progress,, Children's Defense Fund, La Raza, plus several other unions.

They're going for broke with SEIU's "Change That Works" campaign. According to its January announcement:

"SEIU members have committed to more than 1,000 members and staff working full-time in the field and dedicated 30% of the union's resources to the campaign. Already approximately $10 million has been set aside to build and mobilize public support in key states."

"SEIU has hired or assigned full-time state campaign directors . . . in 35 states."

"SEIU has created a "war-room" at its headquarters in Washington, DC to facilitate the Change That Works program."

"In coalition with other organizations, SEIU will participate in multi-million dollar paid advertising campaigns this month and throughout 2009."

SEIU's overt orchestration should be remembered when people like Sen. Harry Reid (D, NV), complain about the huge crowds of private citizens at town hall meetings. "This is not grass roots," Reid claimed as he held up Astroturf and pronounced the crowds "about as phony as this grass."

So how phony is it when SEIU has hired over 1,000 people? At least grassroots and Astroturf are both green. We need a new term for the SEIU mob. Perhaps "Riders of the Purple Rage?"

Ernest Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

First Appeared in Human Events

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