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May 2018, Week 3

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 		 [Internal documents obtained by the Guardian reveal a nationwide
drive to persuade union members to quit and stop paying dues.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 HOW RIGHTWING GROUPS WIELD SECRET 'TOOLKIT' TO PLOT AGAINST U.S.
UNIONS   [https://portside.org/node/17214] 

 

 Ed Pilkington 
 May 15, 2018
The Guardian
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/15/rightwing-thinktanks-secret-plot-against-unions?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail]


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 _ Internal documents obtained by the Guardian reveal a nationwide
drive to persuade union members to quit and stop paying dues. _ 

 Tracie Sharp, CEO of the State Policy Network, says SPN seeks to
"defund and defang" public employee unions, delivering a "mortal blow"
to the American left., PR Watch 

 

Rightwing activists are launching a nationwide drive to persuade
public-sector trade union members to tear up their membership cards
and stop paying dues, posing a direct threat to the progressive
movement in America.

Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal that a network of radical
conservative thinktanks spanning all 50 states is planning direct
marketing campaigns targeted personally at union members to encourage
them to quit. The secret push, the group hopes, could cost unions up
to a fifth of their 7 million members, lead to the loss of millions of
dollars in income and undermine a cornerstone of US progressive
politics.

“Well run opt-out campaigns can cause public-sector unions to
experience 5 to 20% declines in membership, costing hundreds of
thousands or even millions of dollars in dues money. This can affect
the resources and attention available for union leaders to devote to
political action campaigns,” the internal documents say.

he anti-union marketing drive is the brainchild of the State Policy
Network (SPN), a coast-to-coast alliance of 66 rightwing thinktanks
that has an $80m war chest to promote Donald Trump-friendly regressive
policies such as low taxes and small government. The group is funded
by such billionaire conservative donors as the Koch brothers and the
Walton Family Foundation that stems from the Walmart fortune.

Previous SPN literature
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/30/rightwing-alliance-unions-defund-defang] exposed
by the Guardian has revealed the political motives behind the
network’s attacks on unions. It aims to “defund and defang”
public sector unions as a means to “reverse the failed policies of
the American left”.

The goal, the group said, was “permanently depriving the left from
access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling union
members every election cycle”.

The Guardian has now obtained what SPN is calling a “toolkit” of
advice to its followers on how to go about fomenting “union
reform” – a euphemism for draining unions of members and cash. The
“toolkit” sets out four “tactics” for depleting their power
– “effective union reform”, in its language.

One of those tactics is the opt-out campaign.

“To get employees to opt-out of their union,” the documents say,
“they first need to know they have a choice. A direct marketing
campaign to union represented public employees that combines mail and
digital outreach helps raise awareness and raise opt-out rates.”

The SPN blueprint sets out how to acquire the private details of union
members through state freedom of information laws so that opt-out
propaganda can be targeted directly at them. It says: “Access to
lists of union members is essential to this project. The most common
means of obtaining lists is through requests made under state public
records laws.”

The toolkit is being circulated at a vital moment for public sector
trade unions. The wave
[https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/apr/16/teachers-strikes-movement-leaders-west-virginia-oklahoma-arizona] of
school teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky,
Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere has reinvigorated the labor movement
as a key part of the resistance to stagnating wages, waning resources
and a hostile White House.

More perilously, the US supreme court is poised to deliver its ruling
any day inJanus v AFSCME
[http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/janus-v-american-federation-state-county-municipal-employees-council-31/],
one of the most important trade union cases in recent times. If the
five conservative justices on the highest court vote in favor of the
anti-union plaintiff, as many expect, they would deal a severe blow to
organized labor by giving employees the right to opt-out of paying
their share of the costs of collective bargaining even though they
benefit from negotiated higher wages and improved conditions.

That in turn would give the green light to conservative groups like
SPN to step up their efforts to encourage mass resignations of union
members. As a clear statement of intent, SPN invited Mark Janus, a
child support worker in Illinois who is the named plaintiff at the
center of the supreme court case, to speak at its annual meeting in
San Antonio, Texas, last August.

Carrie Conko, SPN’s vice president of communications, said that
“workers should be able to decide for themselves if payment of union
dues and fees is a good use of their hard-earned money or if their
money is better spent elsewhere”. SPN’s aim was not political,
rather it was “simply about protecting free speech”.

Public-sector unions had created a problem for themselves, Conko said,
by leaving some workers to feel they were being used. The Janus case
might actually help government unions improve their standing with
members as “they will need to prove their worth by providing better
representation to earn the voluntary dues”.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers,
said the Guardian documents revealed the extent of secret planning by
rightwing groups in advance of the supreme court’s Janus ruling.
“These documents make clear that Janus v AFSCME is not a case
brought by individuals trying to have a voice, it’s a case brought
by wealthy forces to eliminate worker voice and power.”

She added that rightwing billionaires such as the Kochs “know
working families only have power through their unity as a union, and
they will stop at nothing to destroy that. But we have seen
unprecedented support for our unions and the opportunities they enable
for a better life – when the Janus decision day comes, we will stand
united, ready to act and fight back against the forces that want to
silence workers.”

One of the SPN thinktanks, the Freedom Foundation
[https://spn.org/organization/freedom-foundation/] in Olympia,
Washington state, has already begun campaigning and fundraising on the
back of a Janus ruling that goes against the unions. It has been
mailing out to supporters in which it says “we are gearing up in a
major way to launch an extensive education and activation campaign to
take full advantage of a favorable ruling in this historic case”.

The foundation goes on to say: “The consequences of a favorable
ruling are huge. Imagine tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars
currently used to push damaging leftwing causes and candidates …
vanishing.”

In 2016 the Freedom Foundation ran a brazen campaign
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/10/union-killers-freedom-foundation] in
Washington and Oregon in which it went knocking on the doors of more
than 10,000 childcare and home care workers telling them that under
a previous
[https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/30/harris-v-quinn-supreme-court-blow-unions-fees-ruling] US
supreme court ruling they could opt out of paying union dues. In the
document obtained by the Guardian, SPN boasts that the foundation’s
operation cost the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in
those states $8.8m in lost dues and legal fees.

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