CHICAGO - Dr. Alan Singer, a Professor of Secondary Education at Hofstra University, has called for "aggressive, illegal actions" as "the only way" to save America's labor movement. His statement was read as a not-so-veiled threat toward Pam Harris and her family.
In his Huffington Post article Monday, Singer cited Mrs. Harris' case (Harris vs. Quinn) currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that it "could seriously weaken, if not destroy, all public employee unions," and called on union supporters to actively "disobey" what he called "unjust laws."
Singer's comments disturbed the Harrises. "The Huffington Post crossed the line when it published an overt threat, a call to arms rallying cry for people who are unionized to take up aggressive, illegal actions. What's aggressive, illegal actions?" Harris asked.
"Nothing good comes from illegal actions," said Harris. "They are something always taken against someone who makes the laws, upholds the laws. Citizens like me, who only have our legal process for recourse and justice."
Harris' case before the U.S. Supreme Court started when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn released her name - and hundreds of others - to public sector unions in 2009. Quinn had signed an executive order categorizing as state employees any family receiving state support while caring for their disabled children in their homes.
Harris understands first-hand the "aggressive, illegal actions" Mr. Singer wrote about. After Quinn's executive order went into effect, Harris had an uninvited visit from purple-shirted SEIU union workers "urging" her to support their union over AFSCME, which was also competing to represent Quinn's newly-designated home care workers.
As a mother simply caring for her 26 year old disabled son, that visit forced Harris to seek legal recourse. She and her husband filed a lawsuit against Governor Quinn, which has been adjudicated and appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was heard January 21, 2014.
However, the case has not stopped the intimidation.
On a snowy Thursday night after the U.S. Supreme Court hearing and subsequent media attention, the Harrises had a knock at their door. A man Mrs. Harris described as "someone that would make you think of a Chicago Bears linebacker" asked for help to push his unmarked car out of a snow drift along the road in front of their home. He told the Harrises he was making a Pizza Hut delivery in the neighborhood.
The Harrises, dressed for bed, told the man they would call the local police for help. He begged off, and shortly thereafter, the car was gone.
Mrs. Harris called the local Pizza Hut and asked if their driver made it back safely. She was told that no Pizza Hut delivery car was in her area, no Pizza Hut driver fitting the description worked for them, and all their delivery vehicles are clearly identified with Pizza Hut signage.
"I felt like something was very strange," Mrs. Harris said, and decided to tell the local police about the incident. The Harrises are now on a "watch list" for police to check on during their neighborhood patrols.
Mr. Singer's call on Monday for "aggressive, illegal actions" in response to the Harris case, brought renewed concern to Harris and her family.
Illinois Review contacted Professor Singer about his article, about his justification of violence, and about his culpability should someone respond to his call for action.
Singer attempted to backpedal from his column, writing: "I was unaware of that issue and only cited a Supreme Court case. The actions I called for were strikes and boycotts, unrelated to that case. I apologize to the family for any upset that I caused."
Mrs. Harris told Illinois Review that she believes Singer's response makes his comments "even more irresponsible."
In his article, Singer wrote:
Law is being used to defeat unions. Strikes are banned, boycotts are illegal, and organizing is made difficult. Public and private employers simply refuse to negotiate with workers and their organizations. Traditionally labor union leadership, faced with decertification, costly fines, and imprisonment, has been hesitant to break anti-union laws. They fear unions will be destroyed. But the unions are already being destroyed. Aggressive, illegal, actions may be the only way to save the labor movement in the United States. As Martin Luther King Jr. advised social activists in a "Letter from Birmingham Jail": "One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
He went on ...
The United States Supreme Court is now considering a case, Harris v. Quinn, where the decision could seriously weaken, if not destroy, all public employee unions. Appearing before the court, William Messenger of the rightwing National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, argued that the Supreme Court should reverse the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision and declare government workers cannot be required to pay dues to unions that represent them in collective bargaining negotiations. In the private sector, new manufacturing jobs in the United States and efforts to preserve old jobs have often hinged on the willingness of workers to accept below union standard wages, benefits, and safety regulations.
And concluded with
Unions need to have muscle, they need to be willing to strike, they need to be willing to defy unjust laws, they need to welcome new members and not just represent those who hold onto relatively privileged better-paying jobs, and to they need to be more responsive to their members and potential members.
Singer's call for aggressive illegality seems to go beyond the right to boycott and protest. For now, Pam Harris and her family hope the violence Professor Singer cites will not come to their doorstep.