Union power, organizers ‘behind’ Occupy Las Vegas

Victor Joecks

Less than three weeks after its creation, Occupy Las Vegas has been occupied.

Instead of being a group of  "students, veterans, homemakers, workers, the unemployed, [and] those on Social Security benefits" protesting "corporate greed" and money in politics, it's simply become a new front group for Nevada's most powerful unions.

Modeled after Occupy Wall Street, the Las Vegas group makes its decisions at nightly meetings called General Assemblies. These meetings are streamed online and archived here. Although key individuals drive different parts of the meeting, the group doesn't have a formal leader and attempts to come to a consensus on its decisions.

At its Monday meeting, Occupy Las Vegas decided to hold its next rally at Fremont Street on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011.

The group started its meeting with a discussion on how to attract people to its rally, but as one member of the group, who, in an email filled with profanity, later identified himself to NPRI as Sebring Frehner, told the General Assembly that attendance wouldn't be a problem, because unions were waiting for Occupy Las Vegas to "finish tripping over ourselves, so they can help us."

Frehner (2:25 mark): I need you guys to understand just how many thousands of Nevadans we have literally waiting at our doorstep. I've been fielding calls all day long. The AFL-CIO, one of the biggest unions in the U.S., is behind us, 110 percent. We've got the Culinary behind us. And in Nevada, the Culinary is one of the strongest unions still. They are behind us. They are literally knocking at our door, waiting for us to finish tripping over ourselves, so they can help us. We …


I'm not joking, this is the truth. Like, I've been stalling all these different unions. I mean, if you understand how big some of these unions are, you'll real quickly begin to understand what we need is a plan. Once that goes down, we have a set plan — we have a time, we have a date, we have a place. People will be there. Resources will materialize out of nowhere.

We have the Las Vegas Dealer union. Every dealer you see in a casino that's in a union is in that union. They are behind us.

I'm literally getting cards thrown at me every 10 minutes for the last week straight, going, "Once you guys figure out what you're doing, call me." We will help you. Whatever it is you need, we are behind you. Just figure out what you're doing. [Emphasis added]

This wasn't a one-time thing. An unidentified woman from the SEIU (00:29 mark) thanked her union for sending an e-mail to her and other union members about Occupy Las Vegas.

A man who identified himself as Anthony Rogers, with the Bricklayers, told the group that they didn't need to contact his union members, because he will send Occupy Las Vegas information out to his members and other unions will follow suit.

Man in white shirt talking to Rogers (1:57 mark): You guys can organize yourselves if you have information from us that we're doing something?

Rogers: Yeah.

Union help isn't without a price, however. After Monday's meeting finished, Rogers started talking with that night's moderator, Jennifer, about Occupy Las Vegas' planned rally at the Western Democratic Conference on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011.

Rogers (58:07 mark) : That summit thing is some of our people. We still, we have, the unions have a lot of allies at that summit thing [Western Democratic Conference] and we don't want to…

Unidentified man: …upset them

Jennifer then noted that a motivating factor behind the rally is so the group can protest the next day's Republican presidential primary debate without "pigeon-holing" themselves. (58:23 mark)

Unidentified man (58: 45 mark): But it's going to screw up the union people though.

Jennifer: Well, it doesn't have to be as big of a thing.

While union representatives vigorously opposed protesting the Democratic meeting, they eagerly looked forward to shutting down hotels and casinos on the Strip. Once again, Rogers led the charge.

Rogers (19:00 – 20:00): You need to shut down the Strip.  … When people can't drive inside those hotels, that's when you're going to get a message across, because it stops their money from flowing.

You need to stop MGM's money from flowing in. You need to stop all these hotels' money from flowing. …

Listen, Culinary is 30,000 people on that Strip. Culinary alone! If you get Culinary behind you, we can shut that whole Strip down. No joke! …

I'm being realistic. People are pissed. People are dying. My members are dying. People are going crazy and killing themselves and robbing banks.

In the end, the group agreed that shutting down access to Las Vegas' biggest industry was a good idea, but that they were not yet strong enough to accomplish it.

Of course, shutting down the Strip would have a disproportionate impact on the thousands of casino employees who depend on the industry for tips and paychecks. But that didn't bother these folks.

And that wasn't their only unintended irony.

First, one of the few defined goals of Occupy Las Vegas is to implement "truly effective campaign finance reform, so that corporations and other interests have no overwhelming advantage over the rest of us in any part of American politics." The union groups now virtually running Occupy Las Vegas, however, are, on a national level, much bigger political donors than the corporations they decry. For instance, in the last 23 years, 12 of the top 16 campaign donors have been labor unions.

Second, the group proclaims it has a deep distrust of the media, yet it is constantly working to garner and maximize media attention. The fliers for Saturday's rally state: "The media is playing you," but the group has spent much of its meeting time discussing which types of events will increase media attention.

Third, although the group's mission statement attacks "corporate greed," group members often rely on products from the very business empires they condemn. On Monday, Jennifer, the moderator, stated (49:14 mark): "I don't even remember what's on the agenda. My husband took my iPad away."

At Tuesday's meeting, members of the group discussed how to use their iPhones to take video (2:33:40 mark). Also, as they were discussing places to "occupy," group members praised one park, because "there's a 24-hour Vons adjacent, right next door for water." (1:57:59 mark)

One of Occupy Las Vegas' favorite claims is that it represents "99 percent" of Americans.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This isn't a grassroots movement made up of grassroots individuals. As the group's own words at its General Assemblies make clear, Occupy Las Vegas is being supplied, empowered and guided by Nevada's most powerful labor unions — to the delight of all present.

There's nothing wrong with rallies. But those observing this manufactured hubbub — especially the media that Occupy Las Vegas is so desperate for — should know the truth.

Those in Occupy Las Vegas aren't the 99 percent. They're the labor unions.

Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org/.

Update: In an email filled with profanity, Sebring Frehner identified himself as the man in the yellow hat. The story has been updated accordingly.