Recently I have emailed you regarding the presence of anti-worker petition gatherers on our campuses and referred you to the hotline for the “Decline to Sign” campaign (619-206-4355 or 877-440-9585). Unfortunately things have gotten quite ugly since then. Recently, several activists involved in “Decline to Sign” activity urging voters not to sign these anti-labor petitions have been threatened and followed home by thugs. People have been told “I know where you live” and “I know what your children had for breakfast this morning.” They have been digging through peoples’ garbage to find dirt on them, looking for anything to soil their reputations. Those threatened have not just been labor activists but citizen volunteers, students, and young women being told they were “being watched” by men who tailed their cars as they left the storefront or campus. In the most startling example, rocks were hurled through the window of Lorena Gonzalez’s home (see story here: http://obrag.org/?p=42875).
Now that the new semester has begun, our campuses have been flooded by petition gatherers who have not hesitated to cross the line from free speech to criminality when confronted by “Decline to Sign” volunteers and AFT activists. This week on the the City College campus, AFT staff were threatened with several petition gatherers physically accosting a female activist, threatening to steal her jewelry, insulting her, and taking her hat off and throwing it over a rail. A male volunteer was also similarly assaulted.
In the worst incident, a labor council worker on the “Decline to Sign” team was struck in the face and had his glasses knocked off. His assailant was later arrested by the college police. Apparently, this petition gatherer had quite a criminal record and was on probation so he is now back in jail. In other incidents, AFT members telling students not to sign anti-worker petitions have also been threatened and followed. In the most recent case, one of the petition gatherers stole the camera of a “Decline to Sign” volunteer and drove off with it. City of San Diego police are investigating this crime.
AFT volunteers have also seen a number of petition gatherers operating while drunk or high near the City College trolley stop and in the neighborhoods near downtown. As one AFT member reported, “There was a guy I recognized as a petition gatherer outside the 7/11 near campus whose toothless face and half-lidded eyes clearly indicated he was ‘on the nod.’ It was unbelievable. It’s like the opposition is handing out clipboards as they release inmates from the jail downtown.”
Given the fact that it is now clear that our political opponents have decided to flood our campuses with thugs and ex-felons, we urge you to not just call the office when you see petition gatherers but to actively tell your students what has been happening and urge them to “Decline to Sign” in your classes. If you see petition gatherers on your campus please walk over and say that you work here at the college and that the employees of the college are urging all of their students not to sign petitions that hurt workers. The petition gatherers have been routinely lying (even to the point of “inventing” fake initiatives to lure students in, and then doing the bait and switch to have them sign the anti-worker petitions) and misrepresenting what they are asking our students to sign and—when confronted by free speech on the other side of the issue—have felt free to resort to threats or violence rather than argue their case against us.
The petitions currently in circulation are ones eliminating the pensions of city employees, eliminating our ability to spend money in politics, and banning project labor agreements. There is also a petition paid for by Amazon to eliminate an online sales tax that would further gut state resources that could go toward education. Since all of these petitions are targeted for the June 2012 election where voter turnout is expected to be low, not one proposed initiative is beneficial to middle class families. While our opponents certainly have free speech rights to be on campus and the right to try to qualify ballot measures, they should not be able to do so by telling students that these measures will lower their car insurance, help fund schools, or reduce the price of gasoline—none of which are true.
So please, “Decline to Sign” and tell your students, friends, and family members to do the same. Remember, every petition currently in circulation is bad for workers and middle class families.
Jim Mahler, President
AFT Guild, Local 1931
San Diego & Grossmont-Cuyamaca