(Will update as warranted)
A national labor union on Saturday rebuked the president of its Wichita chapter for comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust during a legislative hearing Friday on federal governmental overreach.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers on Saturday criticized Cornell Beard for remarks he made in which compared being forced to wear a mask to the Nazis forcing Jews to wear the Star of David during the Holocaust.
“The IAM strongly condemns the offensive and inappropriate comparison of the mandates to the Holocaust made by a member to the Kansas Legislature,” the union said in a statement.
“Regardless of one’s views on divisive political issues, there is never a place for this type of hurtful rhetoric,” the union’s statement said.
“A bedrock principle of the labor movement is an unwavering commitment to our core values of equality, respect, fairness and dignity — for all people.
“We recognize the right of our members in a free society to voice their opinions, but it must always be based on the spirit of goodwill toward everyone.”
On Friday, Beard, a self-described conservative Democrat, submitted written testimony comparing anyone who refuses to work with someone who is unvaccinated as “preserving and perpetuating the ideology of a modern-day racist.”
Beard, president of the Wichita District of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said telling anyone they need to wear a mask without a vaccination conjured up images from 80 years ago.
“We’re basically saying you’re the modern-day Jew,” Beard told the committee.
“You’re going wear that star – and you’re to wear it – and we don’t give a damn if you complain about it or not,” he said.
An effort to reach Beard on Saturday afternoon at his union office was unsuccessful.
Beard’s comments came on the first day of two days of legislative hearings to plan ways to fight back against federal healthcare mandates related to COVID-19.
Beard’s testimony drew Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr into a conversation in which she appeared to agree with his comments.
Landwehr thanked Beard for his remarks and said she was intrigued by his comment in his written testimony where he talked about racism.
“You’re right, it’s to the point to where this is racism against the modern-day Jew, which is anyone who disagrees with, ” she said.
She later returned to the subject, homing in on a phrase used by a Democratic senator during the hearing saying “we all need to go down a path.”
“Where have we heard those words before,” Landwehr said.
She said the comment evoked a documentary about the Holocaust where the Nazis told the Germans, “We’ll take you all down a path.”
“Now do I believe that that’s what we’re trying to do? I hope not. Because this is America and I don’t want to lose hope in it,” she said.
Landwehr later told reporters she wasn’t comparing the Holocaust to the vaccine debate.
She said she took offense to the “down the path comment” because it evoked images of how Jews were treated during the Holocaust.
Democratic state Sen. Pat Pettey of Kansas City criticized the comparison on Facebook on Saturday without calling anyone by name.
“It is extremely disturbing when I hear people compare wearing a mask to the Jews being required to wear the Star of David,” Pettey wrote.
“There is no comparison, No one is being forced out of their home , put in a cattle boxcar and exterminated. This disvalues the millions of life’s lost in the Holocaust.”
The machinist and aerospace workers union has about 20,000 members in Kansas and about 560,000 nationally.
During his testimony, Beard claimed to have the ears of more than 20,000 voters who listen to him every week who will be supporting challengers during next years’s election.
He talked about how at one point he was a big supporter of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly He implied he wouldn’t be supporting her in 2022.
“Guess who’s going to be my friend come election time,” he asked. “But she just lost me because I haven’t seen crap.
“Word is anybody that runs against anyone currently, we’re voting for the opposite guy.
“That’s what our membership is saying.”
Landwher said the controversy was a distraction away from discussion about “big government” and how healthcare mandates can affect Kansans in the work place.
“The whole thing was taken out of context because people wanted to divert the story away from the issue at hand, which is the fact that we have big government coming in and having people potentially lose their jobs and their careers,” she said. “It was a distraction.”
Landwehr reiterated that she took offense to the “down the path” comment.
“It’s the ideology of following big government down the path,” she said. “That’s what kind of lit me up a bit. No, we don’t just follow. We are the United States of America.”
Democratic state Rep. Dan Osman of Overland Park also criticized the comparison.
“As a person of Jewish faith, I condemn the statements made yesterday comparing the wearing of masks with the branding of Jews during Nazi occupied Germany,” said Osman, who replaced former Rep. Jennifer Day in the Legislature last summer.
“Though it may have been made in an effort to group people together it had the opposite effect: alienating and insulting those that heard it, myself included.
“There is no need for rhetoric of this nature,” Osman said.