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The State of Surveillance

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT:
Secretly Monitoring Labor Rally

WHEN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA Safeway store workers went on strike in 2003-2004, reaching an impasse on health care issues raised in contract negotiations, demonstrators voiced their opinions at Northern California Safeway venues as well. A delegation of religious leaders planned a pilgrimage to the home of Safeway CEO Steve Burd, located in the Contra Costa County city of Alamo, to deliver postcards supporting the striking workers. At the same time, the Contra Costa Sheriff 's Department used its Homeland Security Unit to monitor the activity of labor activists in San Francisco. On January 23, 2004, two men identifying themselves as members of the Contra Costa County Sheriff 's Homeland Security Unit went to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) offices in Martinez, the union representing Safeway workers, to ask about the pilgrimage. UFCW staff told them that they were not organizing the event and directed them to a contact number on a flyer.

The next day--despite the fact that the sheriff 's department had been in contact with the pilgrimage organizers--union leaders saw the same sheriff's deputies in plainclothes attending a demonstration at a Safeway store in San Francisco. California Labor Federation Leader Art Pulaski approached the deputies and asked them if they were law enforcement. They denied it. One of the deputies said, "My brother is in Iraq and my father is a union oil worker. I'm just here to support the strikers." When a UFCW staff member confirmed that the two men were in fact from Homeland Security, Pulaski asked them again - several times. The men finally admitted that they were sheriff 's deputies in the Homeland Security Unit. Pulaski responded by telling the deputies, "We are alarmed at having undercover officers at a union rally. I have to tell you that I am greatly offended that you wouldn't give your name[s] and that you continued to lie about being in law enforcement."

The Labor Federation went public about the surveillance. At a press conference denouncing the clandestine monitoring of the rally, Law Professor and former California State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin said, "The kind of infiltration has the inevitable consequence of chilling the participation of innocent people in what is otherwise a constitutionally protected activity." Lutheran Pastor Carol Bean, one of the organizers of the pilgrimage, wondered, "When did priests and postcards become a threat to national security?" Representatives from the ACLU-NC and its Mt. Diablo Chapter, the local League of Women Voters, the San Francisco Labor Coalition, and Reverend Phil Lawson (a clergy leader involved in the pilgrimage) met with and wrote letters to Sheriff Warren Rupf expressing concern about the monitoring.

Sheriff Rupf claimed that his deputies were not there to spy on labor leaders and were not performing "homeland security" functions. The deputies were attending the rally, he said, to learn about crowd management from the San Francisco Police Department. Sheriff Rupf refused to release any police reports or other documents on the decision to send the deputies to the rally or the information they gathered. Rupf declared that the labor leaders had no privacy rights in their public activities. The department had previously asserted that it was justified in monitoring protests because terrorists could use legal demonstrations.

USING A HOMELAND SECURITY JUSTIFICATION TO MONITOR LAWFUL ACTIVITY "IS SENDING A CHILLING AND INTIMIDATING MESSAGE TO ALL OF US." Labor leader Art Pulaski (Sec.-Treas. Cal. Fed. Of Labor)


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