Union members under fire for booting National Guard from St. Paul Labor Center

Tom Hauser
Updated: April 16, 2021 08:06 PM
Created: April 16, 2021 06:44 PM

Union members in St. Paul kicked out Minnesota National Guard soldiers who were using the St. Paul Labor Center on West 7th Street as a temporary staging area Wednesday night.

In a video posted on Facebook by a registered nurse and member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, union members can be seen and heard mocking the soldiers and telling them to "get out" and "go home."

It happened as the National Guard was mobilizing in the aftermath of the killing of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer.

"We came down here to confront them," Cliff Willmeng, a registered nurse, says on the video he posted. "The labor movement and the National Guard has had a river of blood between the two institutions."

On the video, you can hear union members yelling, "Get out of here," and singing, "Hey, hey, goodbye," as the military vehicles depart.

"You see here the entire state of Minnesota, the Twin Cities area and the entire United States government cannot seem to figure out how to control their police from killing working-class folks, especially Black and brown working-class folks," Willmeng says.

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt expressed outrage on Twitter about the video and the treatment of the National Guard.

"The way the @MNNationalGuard was treated by these unions is disgraceful," Daudt tweeted. "Union leaders involved in the decision to chase away and jeer fellow Minnesotans keeping the cities safe should apologize and resign."

In some rare bipartisan agreement, DFL Gov. Tim Walz — a former member of the Minnesota National Guard — also joined in the criticism via Twitter.

"Let’s be clear: The brave men and women of the Minnesota National Guard are our neighbors," Walz tweeted. "They’re teachers, health care workers, and business owners who live in communities across our state. This is unacceptable. They can’t 'go home' — this is their home."

The governor went on to point out all the work the guard has done protecting nursing home residents and vaccinating Minnesotans during the pandemic.

Labor union leaders responded with a mix of understanding, disappointment and embarrassment.

"As Labor leaders, we honor and respect the National Guard's service and commitment to our community, state, and country," leaders of the Minnesota AFL-CIO said in a statement. "In fact, many of these men and women are also proud union members. At the same time, for a significant portion of union members, their lived experiences in both foreign countries and this one, have made the military symbols of oppression in their eyes. Additionally, while the National Guard was deployed by the Governor with the intent to protect our communities from outside agitators and provocateurs, many in the community view their presence as a crackdown on first amendment rights. That is why, for many union members, Wednesday’s pictures of National Guard troops using the Saint Paul Labor Center as a staging area were deeply disturbing."

While that statement seemed to walk a fine line, other union leaders were more straightforward.

The Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council said it was “unacceptable and disheartening that individual activists treated the Guard with disrespect while they waited at the St. Paul Labor Center for their next orders. It is embarrassing that the actions of a few independent actors caused the Guard to leave the Labor Center out of an abundance of caution.”

Adam Duinick, director of Government Affairs for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, called Wednesday’s forced departure “unacceptable and an embarrassing day for labor. We stand with our members in the guard.”

AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Julie Bleyhl said members of her union were not part of the incident Wednesday night and stressed the importance of exercising free speech while commending National Guard members for their service.

"Our union strongly supports and encourages residents to use their 1st amendment rights to peacefully assemble, protest, call out injustices, and have their concerns heard," Bleyhl said in a statement. "Again, we want to thank members of the Minnesota National Guard who frequently protect our communities through search and rescue operations, administering COVID-19 vaccines, responding to natural disasters and floods, fighting in war zones overseas for our shared values, maintaining peace, and actively protecting our constitutional rights."

Although Cliff Willmeng, who shot the video, is a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, the organization had no official comment on Friday.

"MNA Does not have a statement as of now," spokesman Rick Fuentes said in an email to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.


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