Painters Local 10 vice president Wyatt McMinn was acquitted June 27 of a first degree criminal trespass charge. The charge stemmed from a protest of a “right-to-work” strategy session in Vancouver.
McMinn was one of about 50 labor unionists who showed up in work clothes and hard hats carrying picket signs and a bullhorn at a September 5, 2013, meeting at Clark College organized by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and the Cascade Policy Institute. The two anti-union groups were discussing how to pass so-called “right-to-work” laws in Oregon and Washington, which aim to weaken unions by barring any contract from requiring workers to pay dues.
Most of the protesters picketed outside the “Northwest Employee Freedom” event, but a handful entered and disrupted the meeting, arguing with presenters and chanting “hey hey ho ho union busting’s got to go.” Police were called.
A YouTube video posted by the Freedom Foundation documents the arrest. A least six police officers enter the room. Vancouver Police Department Sergeant David Henderson gives the order: “Everybody who’s not supposed to be here, get out, now,” and then goes around telling men in union t-shirts to leave, while ignoring men in suits.
“I feel like you’re profiling me, sir,” McMinn says. “You’re under arrest if you don’t get out right now,” Henderson answers, and less than two seconds later, moves to handcuff McMinn.
The video proved to be useful evidence: Announcing the acquittal, Clark County District Court Judge John Hagenson said McMinn didn’t have time to leave, and thus was not guilty of trespassing.
The mystery was why the police responded in such numbers, and why the Clark County district attorney chose to prosecute such a case. First degree criminal trespass is punishable by up to a year in jail up to a $5,000 fine, or both. Retired letter carrier Jim Cook, one of about 20 unionists who came out to show support for McMinn at the trial, said it appeared neither the arresting officer nor the prosecutor knew who the protesters were. Cook said they repeatedly referred to ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which engaged in large-scale civil disobedience and disruptive protests in Southwest Washington 2011. But McMinn is a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, not ILWU. Some of those protesting at Clark College were ILWU members, but most were members of building trades unions.
After his trial, McMinn called his acquittal a small victory for democratic rights and for labor rights.
“I’m not guilty of anything but exercising my right, and your right, to free speech,” McMinn said.