Union Political Director Faces Charges for Personally Supporting Nader

Statement by David Johnson


My name is David Johnson. I am a rank and file member of Carpenter’s Union Local 44, in Champaign IL, and for the past three years the Vice-President/Political Director of the AFL-CIO of Champaign County. In November 2000, charges were filed against me by a Plumber Business Agent of Plumbers Local 149 in Savoy IL (Stephen Brewer) for supposedly violating my oath of office as Political Director. That is, because I publicly expressed support for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election, even though I made a disclaimer that these were my own personal views, and did not reflect the official views of the local, state, or national AFL-CIO.

The first charge is based on the fact that on October 9, 2000, I attended the official opening of the Green Party office in Champaign, and was interviewed by a reporter (Phil Bloomer) from the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette. At the very beginning of the interview I stated that the views I would express were my own personal views and not those of the AFL-CIO. There were two witnesses present who can testify to this fact: Peter Miller, an organizer for the teachers union IEA (Illinois Education Association) and host of the community radio program “Central Illinois Labor Hour” (217-367-1336), and Mike Lehmann, chairman of the “Champaign County Living Wage Association.”

On October 16, 2000, the Bloomer interview appeared in the News Gazette. My disclaimer statement was not printed, and the article, after identifying me and my position, accurately quoted me as saying: “Nader has come out in favor of Labor’s entire platform, including expanded powers for the National Labor Relations Board, a ban on the permanent replacement of strikers, and repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act.” “The Democratic Party has abandoned us on those issues.” “It’s really a pretty easy decision for me.”

I contacted Bloomer after the article was published and asked him why he did not print the disclaimer and he stated that, “I thought I made it apparent in the article when I quoted you as saying, ‘It’s really a pretty easy decision for me.’” Bloomer ended by saying to me, “Everyone has a right to a personal opinion. Stick to your guns.”

On November 5, I was invited as a guest speaker to a benefit event for the Green Party and the Independent Media Center, held at the “High Dive” night club in Champaign. One of the local television stations (a CBS affiliate, WCIA) covered the event and broadcast the next morning a film footage segment of me on stage stating my support for Nader. I have a video copy of my entire speech (compliments of the Independent Media Center; contact person: Sara Kanouse in which I state at the very beginning: “The opinions I am about to express are my personal views, and not the views of the AFL-CIO.”

At the following Champaign County AFL-CIO meeting on November 15, the President (Duane Lybarger, of SEIU Local 73) read the letter sent by Stephen Brewer. In the letter Brewer quoted some of my statements supporting Nader as reported in the media and officially asked that charges be brought against me for “violation of my oath of office.” After the letter was read at the executive board meeting, I made a statement in regard to the letter stating that I had in both incidences made a disclaimer that these were my own personal views and that I had a First Amendment right to personal views. I also stated that there was no basis to the charges that I had violated my oath of office, since I did not misrepresent my views as those of the AFL-CIO. President Lybarger stated that, nevertheless, according to the constitution and bylaws, a trial has to be held whenever charges are filed.

The trial will be held on January 17, 2001, at the Carpenter’s hall (402 S. Duncan Rd., Champaign IL ) at 5 pm. Mike Griffin, former Staley strike leader and editor of the “War Zone” news service from Decatur IL (217-428-6372), will represent me at the hearing. My attorney will also be present as a witness to the proceedings.

For the last eight years with the Clinton/Gore administration we have witnessed their promotion of NAFTA, Fast Track, the WTO, the China Trade Bill, the cutting of funds to OSHA and the NLRB, and even, according to George Stephanopolous in his book “All Too Human,” wanting to eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act. Many Labor leaders think that issues of NAFTA, WTO, etc., will not affect them, but many people in the Labor movement know that the trade policies and other policies that Clinton and especially Gore have promoted and fought extremely hard for their becoming law, are the beginning of the end for Organized Labor in the United States and the entire world.

I am not alone in being persecuted for my personal beliefs. Many other dedicated Trade Unionists throughout the United States who refused to support Al Gore for President are experiencing similar attacks on their First Amendment right to free speech. What is becoming of the Labor Movement in this country? Are there those in Labor who are going to attack their fellow union brothers and sisters for daring to sound the alarm against the policy of supporting politicians who are telling us what we want to hear, and then once in office, pursuing policies that are slowly but systematically destroying us? Should Organized Labor continue to allow itself to be the dog that is being wagged by the Democratic Party? A party that is no longer the party of the working person, but instead a party controlled by corporate campaign money.

If you are concerned about stopping this trend leading us to a return of political witch hunts like that which occurred during the McCarthy era of the 1950s, please send e-mail messages of support for my right (and everyone’s right) to free speech.

Send e-mail to: President Duane Lybarger (AFL-CIO of Champaign County) at: unionyes@soltec.net
This is my personal e-mail address. This way I can be certain that they are received.

In solidarity,

David Johnson