Material of Interest to People on the Left 

UNIONS   [https://portside.org/node/16608] 


 Mary Bottari 
 February 22, 2018
In These Times

	* [https://portside.org/node/16608/printable/print]

 _ The Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME is poised to decimate
public-sector unions—and it’s been made possible by a network of
right-wing billionaires, think tanks and corporations. _ 

 National Nurses United, 


name for the U.S. Supreme Court case scheduled for oral arguments
February 26, _Janus v. American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees, Council 31, _that could deal a devastating blow
public-sector unions and workers nationwide.

In the past decade, a small group of people working for deep-pocketed
corporate interests, conservative think tanks and right-wing
foundations have bankrolled a series of lawsuits to end what they call
“forced unionization.” They say they fight in the name of “free
speech,” “worker rights” and “workplace freedom.” In briefs
before the court, they present their public face: carefully selected
and appealing plaintiffs like Illinois child-support worker Mark Janus
and California schoolteacher Rebecca Friedrichs. The language they use
is relentlessly pro-worker.

Behind closed doors, a different face is revealed. Those same people
cheer “defunding” and “bankrupting” unions to deal a “mortal
blow” to progressive politics in America.

A key director of this charade is the State Policy Network (SPN),
whose game plan is revealed in a union-busting toolkit uncovered by
the Center for Media and Democracy. The first rule of the national
network of right-wing think tanks that are pushing to dismantle
unions? “Rule #1: Be pro-worker, not anti-union. … Don’t rant
against unions. … Using phrases like ‘union fat cats’ and
‘corrupt union bosses’ and other negative language reduces support
for reform.”

And yet, SPN groups
[https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/SPN_Members] have
systematically spearheaded attacks on unions and workers in
statehouses and courtrooms nationwide. The _Janus_ case, and its
precursor, _Friedrichs v. __the California Teachers Association_,
represent SPN’s most audacious move yet, an effort to kneecap the
unions of public-sector workers—including teachers, nurses,
sanitation workers, park rangers, prison guards, police and
firefighters—in a single blow.


On Jan. 11, 2016, about 100 people bundled in coats and mittens mill
around the Supreme Court steps. They hold signs with little red apples
that read, “Trust Teachers!” and “Respect Teachers? Then respect
their First Amendment rights!”

From a distance, it looks like a teachers’ rally. A closer look
reveals an odd array of participants. Grover Norquist, the man who
wanted to drown government in a bathtub, cheerfully declines an
interview as he breezes by. Daniel Turner, who worked for the
education reform task force of the far-right American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC)
[http://inthesetimes.com/article/11603/publicopoly_exposed], waves a
“Trust Teachers!” sign from behind the podium. Near him stands
Chantal Lovell from SPN’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a group
credited with jamming a union-busting bill through Michigan’s lame
duck legislature in 2012. A representative from SPN’s Arizona-based
Goldwater Institute is present, as is a fellow from the Koch
brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (who also declines an interview).

The night before, SPN organized a dinner
[https://www.prwatch.org/files/spn-friedrichs-rally-flyer_.pdf] for
representatives of its member groups who had flown in for the oral
arguments. Among its members were the lawyers representing the
plaintiffs in _Friedrichs_ and 12 groups that had filed
supporting _amicus curiae_ (“friend of the court”) briefs. The
suit was filed on behalf of Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other
California teachers who wanted to stop paying their “fair share
fees”—money paid by non-union members to cover the costs of
collective bargaining.

On the courthouse steps, a woman with a bullhorn tries to rev up the
audience. “Who do we trust?” she asks. “Teachers,” murmurs the
crowd. “Who?” she yells. “Teachers!” Now they have the hang of
it. The podium is emblazoned with the hashtag #IStandWithRebecca.

_Friedrichs_ deadlocked the Court 4-4 after the death of Justice
Antonin Scalia, leaving the status quo of union fees in place. Expect
a repeat of this courthouse scene February 26. SPN is once
again rallying the troops
[https://splinternews.com/behold-the-orwellian-right-wing-propaganda-behind-the-s-1822973104] and
a #StandWithMark hashtag is already circulating.

_Janus_ has its origins in a lawsuit filed by billionaire Illinois
Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner issued an executive order in 2015
instructing Illinois to stop collecting fair share fees. At the same
time, he filed a federal lawsuit to speed the issue to the U.S.
Supreme Court. Two SPN member groups—the Illinois Policy Institute
and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation—joined the
suit with plaintiff Mark Janus, who makes a much more sympathetic
poster child than a billionaire venture capitalist. When Rauner was
found not to have standing, Janus was allowed to pursue the suit.

Janus is a child-support worker employed by the Illinois Department of
Healthcare and Family Services. “The union voice is not my voice,”
Janus wrote in a _Chicago Tribune_ op-ed. “The union’s fight is
not my fight. But a piece of my paycheck every week still goes to the
union.” His lawyers will argue before the Court that if “money is
speech” in a post-_Citizens United_ world, then fair share fees are
unconstitutional “forced” or “coerced” speech.

The Court decided 40 years ago in _Abood v. Detroit_ _Board of
Education_ that fair share fees are constitutional. The decision
tried to balance the right of a union to exist against the rights of
any workers who don’t want to be members. Since unions must
represent all employees in contract negotiations, the Court held that
nonmembers could be assessed a fee to cover the costs associated with
this representation. But, the Court said, nonmembers could not be
charged for costs associated with political activities. Today, fair
share fees and political fees are separated. The _Abood_ decision is
not a good enough compromise for the _Janus_ lawyers, who argue
everything a public-sector union does is political.

Overturning _Abood_ would be “a right to a free ride, nothing
more, nothing less,” says Joel Rogers, a University of Wisconsin law
professor. “There’s no question that it’ll have a devastating
financial effect on public-sector unions, at least in the short


Media coverage has focused almost uniformly on the personal stories of
Mark Janus and Rebecca Friedrichs, and the complex legalities of their
cases. That coverage obscures the bigger picture.

“It’s a mistake to focus on the individual plaintiffs,” says
Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, an assistant professor of international
and public affairs at Columbia University. “Instead, the focus
should be on the conservative advocacy groups. … ALEC, SPN and the
Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity have all worked hand in glove over
the past several years to cut back the strength of public-sector
unions. The effects of this case will be felt far beyond the

Infographic design: Rachel Dooley

ALEC was founded in 1973 as a venue for politicians and corporate
lobbyists to meet behind closed doors and draft cookie-cutter
legislation, known as “model bills,” that promote corporate
interests. The Center for Media and Democracy published ALEC’s
library of secret bills
[https://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Bills_Affecting_Worker_and_Consumer_Rights_and_More] in
2011. One stack of model bills aims to privatize public services and
public schools; another stack aims to break unions.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a right-wing political advocacy
group founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, owners
of Koch Industries. AFP, fueled by a large network of millionaire and
billionaire funders, spends millions on TV ads in election cycles and
serves as the Kochs’ “grassroots” lobbying arm. AFP
representatives participate in both ALEC and SPN.

SPN is the least well-known of the three groups, in part because it is
made up of dozens of innocuous-sounding “institutes” and
“centers” like the Illinois Policy Institute and the Mackinac
Center. Yet SPN’s 66 think tanks and 87 associated groups take in
more than $80 million annually, eight times the budget of ALEC.

SPN’s predecessor, the Madison Group, was launched by ALEC in the
1980s to be a Heritage Foundation in each of the states, at the
suggestion of President Ronald Reagan to millionaire Thomas Roe.
Today, SPN members provide the local presence needed to make ALEC
proposals appear homegrown.

In red states, SPN groups provide the cookie-cutter studies, the
“expert” legislative testimony and the media commentary to back
ALEC’s union-busting bills, school voucher programs and other Koch
political priorities. In blue states, these think tanks use
door-knocking campaigns to solicit workers to quit their unions,
“recertification” efforts to force unions to vote annually on
whether to exist, and lawsuits aimed at demobilizing organized labor.

“This form of ultra-conservatism is geared toward making sure that
there is no organized power outside of big business and wealthy,
organized donors,” says Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor of
government and sociology. For that reason, pulling back the curtain on
how this machine operates and is funded is vital to workers’

The work of this “troika,” as Skocpol and Hertel-Fernandez call
is underwritten by corporations, right-wing foundations and a handful
of billionaires. Most corporate donors have managed to keep their
identities secret, but ALEC’s industry advisory board, which helps
fund the organization, has included representatives of Koch
Industries, Exxon Mobil, Pfizer, State Farm and other giant firms.
Known past funders of AFP include the American Petroleum Institute and
Reynolds American. SPN’s past donors include Altria/Phillip Morris,
AT&T and Time Warner.

Another big chunk of the funding for the troika—tens of millions
over the past decade—flows from Donors Trust and Donors Capital, two
donor-advised funds connected to the Koch brothers’ network. These
funds help donors cloak their identities.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, with more than
$900 million in assets, is another major operational funder. Harry
Bradley started the foundation in 1942, shortly after the death of his
brother, Lynde, with profits from their electronics parts
manufacturing company. Like the Koch brothers’ father, Fred Koch,
Harry was a big supporter of the far-right, anti-civil rights John
Birch Society. He frequently hosted its founder, Robert Welch, for
public presentations at the company’s Milwaukee headquarters. Today,
Bradley is one of the SPN network’s biggest benefactors, funneling
$133 million to network groups since the 1980s. Bradley has also
funded ALEC and AFP. 

Across the country, in statehouses and in court, the troika has
transmuted this flood of money into a two-pronged attack on unions.
But, Skocpol says, “This is not what the public wants. It is
entirely a political effort to destroy the most significant, organized
political counterweight to the extreme Right.” In fact, the
popularity of unions is on the rise. A 2017 Gallup poll found that the
percentage of Americans who approve of unions had risen 5 points in a
single year, to 61 percent, the highest since 2003.


A trove of Bradley Foundation documents were leaked
[https://www.exposedbycmd.org/bradley-files/] in 2016 by a
sophisticated group of international hackers. The documents reveal the
inner workings of a 15-year effort to build infrastructure in
battleground states to support the Republican Party and tear down

In 2003, Bradley launched its disingenuously named Working Group on
Employee Rights at a private meeting in Washington, D.C. The group
included Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (an SPN member)
and Paul Kersey, who has worked for the National Right to Work
Committee, the Illinois Policy Institute and the Mackinac Center,
three of the nation’s premier union-busting operations. A later
meeting would bring in ALEC, SPN and the anti-union front group Center
for Union Facts. What emerged is a stream of underwriting for think
tanks, anti-union litigation efforts, anti-union media groups,
opposition research shops and even an anti-union alternative to
teachers unions (the Association of American Educators).

In 2009, Bradley CEO Michael Grebe, once an attorney for the
Republican National Committee, backed a little-known county executive,
Scott Walker. Grebe took a highly unusual step for a
“philanthropist,” becoming the chair of the Walker campaign for

As a result of the financial crisis, Democrats were swept out of
office in 2010 and a wave of Republicans took control of 26 state
legislatures (up from 14) and six new governors’ mansions. This was
the opportunity the groups had been waiting for.

Bradley suddenly ramped up its annual giving to AFP from $20,000 to
$520,000. The head of AFP, Tim Phillips, visited Walker before he was
sworn in, urging him to provoke a showdown with public-employee
unions. The group was working on a similar strategy in Indiana, Ohio
and Pennsylvania.

Weeks after taking office, Walker declared that Wisconsin was facing a
dire financial crisis and introduced his Act 10 “budget repair
bill,” which would slash $900 million in school spending and gut the
state’s collective bargaining law. Walker justified the bill by
declaring repeatedly that the state was “broke.” But in
a Congressional grilling a month later, when pressed by Ohio Rep.
Dennis Kucinich on how much money the measure would
save, Walker admitted, “It doesn’t save any.” (Similarly, when
Rauner issued his executive order to block fair share fees, he claimed
budget deficits forced his hand, but in front of a friendly audience
at the Hoover Institute in California, he admitted that the executive
order had “nothing to do with any of the budget.”)

The Wisconsin gambit has been repeated in red state after red state.
All told, 15 states have passed bills restricting collective
bargaining by public workers, and six states—Indiana, Ohio,
Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia—passed ALEC
union-busting right-to-work bills despite mass protests. In some
states, the public has taken to the ballot to turn back the attack:
Voters in Ohio reversed the measure with a veto referendum in 2011;
Missouri has a referendum on the ballot for 2018.


States under Democratic control required different strategies. A
blitzkrieg of lawsuits against unions were unleashed, including the
2012 _Knox v. SEIU _in California,  the 2014 _Parrish v.
Dayton_ in Minnesota, the 2014 _Harris v. Quinn_in Illinois, the
2015 _D’Agostino v. Patrick_ in Massachusetts, the 2015 _Bain v.
California Teachers Association_ and the 2016 _Friedrichs_. These
cases did not originate with public workers, critics claim, but were
instead initiated by right-wing lawyers who sought out clients to
advance a union-busting agenda.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) supplied
attorneys for most of these cases and is the lead attorney
in _Janus_. Founded in 1968 with a mission to “eliminate coercive
union power,” the foundation (along with its advocacy arm) is an SPN
member with $14 million in annual revenue. NRTWLDF is funded by the
usual suspects: Donors Trust and Donors Capital, the Bradley
Foundation, and the anti-public-school Walton Foundation, run by
Walmart’s founding family.

A long list of amicus curiae briefs from a variety of think tanks may
make it seem as if the _Janus_ side has broad national support. In
fact, 13 of 19 briefs filed by organizations (rather than governments
or individuals) for the plaintiff come from current or former members
of SPN. Seventeen were filed by groups that have received funding from
Bradley, Donors Capital and Donors Trust.

Infographic design: Rachel Dooley

Another funder of this work is the National Federation of Independent
Business (NFIB), a trade association affiliated with ALEC and SPN that
filed anti-union briefs in _Friedrichs _and _Janus_. Why should
private-sector NFIB care about public-sector unions at all? In his
book _The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking
America, One State at a Time
political economist Gordon Lafer quotes a 2015 NFIB blog post:
“Because ... if unions are dealt a blow in the public sector,
private sector businesses might see decreased pressure from pro-labor
forces on issues ranging from the minimum wage to paid sick leave and
other employee benefits.”

Lafer, a professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and
Research Center, insists the corporate money behind these institutions
should not be overlooked. “Who are the most serious opponents to the
corporate agenda on the minimum wage, paid sick leave, health
insurance and NAFTA free trade?” Lafer asks. “[Corporations] think
they will get rid of their best-funded opponents on a whole range of


Grover Norquist is excited about a potential _Janus_ victory for
another reason. “Seven million public-sector employees who pay
between $4 billion and $8 billion a year in dues—a third of them
will quit [paying],” he told _The Atlantic_
“Now try funding the modern Democratic Party without union
dues—good luck.”

While fair share fees do not directly fund union political activity,
any loss of funding could weaken a union’s organizational capacity,
ultimately undercutting electoral clout. According
to FollowTheMoney.org [https://www.followthemoney.org/], unions
contributed an estimated $602 million to state and federal races and
ballot initiatives in 2016. Slightly more than half of that ($319
million) came from public-sector unions. In 2016, labor was the
largest contributor to state-level Democratic candidates, accounting
for at least 18 percent ($128.7 million) of their total fundraising.
Unions also mobilize their workers as persuasive door knockers at
election time who can explain who they are and what they fight for.

Research by academics like Columbia’s Hertel-Fernandez suggests that
the erosion of public-sector union membership by ALEC bills has also
dampened political participation. His most recent study
based on data from 1980 to 2016, shows that right-to-work laws
decrease Democratic presidential vote share by 3.5 percent and depress
overall turnout.


It would be imprudent for Bradley or SPN to be as blunt as Norquist in
public (given their tax-exempt status as charitable organizations),
but internal Bradley and SPN documents are clear about their goal of
bleeding the Democratic Party of funding.

Norquist has long described unions, public-sector workers and trial
lawyers as the funding “pillars” of the Democratic Party. In
internal documents prepared for its board of directors, Bradley staff
channels Norquist and recommends continued funding for the NRTDLF
because “big Labor and trial attorneys … are the two principal
funding pillars of the Left.” Bradley has gifted the
anti-affirmative action Center for Individual Rights, which
represented the _Friedrichs_plaintiffs, with more than $1.5 million.

Materials prepared for the Bradley board track _Friedrichs_ and the
cases leading up to it. A map from the pro-worker Economic Policy
Institute is included to show states that allow fair share fees,
annotated to show the potential monetary losses for unions at $500
million to $1 billion per year. Bradley staff quote “the
leftist _In These Times_,” which characterized _Friedrichs_ as a
case “that could decimate public-sector unions.”

Another case leading up to _Janus_ was _Bain v. California Teachers
Association_, which attacked the way the union processed political
fees. Bradley staff called _Bain_ and _Friedrichs_ combined a
“powerful ‘one-two’ punch” against unions, predicting that
“all that would remain to fund the unions’ political apparatus
would be the hardcore teacher members.”

For Bradley, the anti-union work was a twofer. Bradley has long been a
proponent of the privatization of America’s schools; America’s
public school teachers and powerful teachers unions stand in the way.
Internal documents show Bradley staff bluntly advocating projects to
“defund teachers unions and achieve real education reform” at the
same time.

“Teachers unions are at the heart of all this,” says Harvard’s
Theda Skocpol. “Teachers exist in every community across the
country. They are educated, they speak up, and they care about public
schools. Break the teachers unions and you break the organizational
power that exists in and around the Democratic Party at the state and
local level.”

In an April 2016 fundraising letter obtained by the Center for Media
and Democracy and published in the _Guardian_
SPN CEO Tracie Sharpe asks her readers to help strike “a major blow
to the Left’s ability to control government.”

I am writing you today to share with you our bold plans to permanently
break the power of unions _this year_. ... I am talking about the
kind of dramatic reforms we’ve seen in recent years in Indiana,
Wisconsin, Michigan and now West Virginia—freeing teachers and other
government workers from coercive unionism—and spreading them across
the nation. … I’m talking about _permanently depriving_ the Left
from access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling
union members every election cycle.

SPN’s secret union-busting toolkit
[http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3984714-Spntoolkit.html#document/p1] even
celebrates this February 2016 quote from a Wisconsin AFSCME leader
talking about the devastating impact of Walker’s Act 10 bill: “Do
we have less boots on the ground? Yeah. Do we give the same amount of
money to candidates? No.”

The Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Wash.—a featured and feted SPN
member—has been equally explicit in its fundraising letters. One
2014 letter obtained by the _Guardian_
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/10/union-killers-freedom-foundation] reads,
“The Freedom Foundation has a proven plan for bankrupting and
defeating government unions through education, litigation, legislation
and community activation.”

A Freedom Foundation-produced brochure, titled “Undue Influence:
Public Unions’ Cycle of Power, Electioneering,” shows multiple
charts and graphs on union spending in campaigns and elections. The
graph “Democrats’ Dependence on Union Funds” lists 31 Washington
state Democratic legislators and their union campaign contributions.
The accompanying text argues that “the problem associated with union
electioneering” could be solved by weakening unions and eliminating
fair share fees.

SPN member groups have also cited their union-busting efforts as key
to electing Trump. The _Wall Street Journal_ profiled Tracie Sharpe
in a post-election puff piece
[https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-spoils-of-the-republican-state-conquest-1481326770] on
its editorial page, titled “The Spoils of the Republican State
Conquest.” She tells the paper that Wisconsin and Michigan were
only “thinly blue” and that the destruction of the states’
unions has put the GOP on better footing. “When you chip away at one
of the power sources, that also does a lot of get-out-the-vote,”
Sharpe chirped. “I think that helps—for sure.”

Unions lost 136,000 members in Wisconsin; Trump won by 23,000 votes.
“Did the labor reforms enacted in Wisconsin and neighboring Michigan
help Donald Trump win those states?” asks Norquist associate Matt
Patterson in the _Daily Signal_. “No question in my mind. Hard to
fight when your bazooka’s been replaced by a squirt gun.”

Most of the groups pursuing this agenda, including Bradley and SPN,
are tax-exempt charitable groups. After _Citizens United_ ushered in
a surge of dark money groups, the Obama administration’s IRS
attempted to distinguish real charitable organizations from false
ones, only to have the effort shut down by tremendous blowback from
the Right. Ever since, the IRS has been reluctant to take action on
these kinds of issues.

“There is simply no basis in law to find that defunding or attacking
unions is a tax-exempt charitable activity,” says attorney Marcus
Owen, former director of the IRS’s exempt organizations division.
“On the contrary, such actions are deeply infused with private
benefit to employer interests and political party interests—but not
with community or public benefit, which is required under the law.”


The Democratic Party is not the only loser in this scenario; real harm
will be done to U.S. workers and their families. Following World War
II, unions expanded dramatically, representing 35 percent of the
workforce at their peak in the mid-1950s and helping to usher in an
era of shared prosperity. According to the Economic Policy Institute,
unionized workers make 20 percent more, on average, than other
workers, but their ranks have shrunk to 6.5 percent of private-sector
workers and 34.4 percent of public-sector workers in 2017. This
decline has exactly tracked the decline of the American middle class.

The attack on public-sector workers is also an attack on women and
African Americans, groups disproportionally represented in
public-sector unions. According to a National Women’s Law Center
women make up 55 percent of union-represented public-sector workers,
and a 2010 analysis from the Center for Economic and Policy Research
[http://cepr.net/] shows that African Americans are 30 percent more
likely than the overall workforce to hold public-sector jobs.

One silver-lining argument contends that an adverse _Janus_ ruling
presents an opportunity for unions to simply do their job better: Talk
to every member, innovate on services and benefits, and do the kind of
“deep organizing” needed to outmaneuver wealthier opponents. The
data from Wisconsin, however, is not encouraging. Five years after
Walker’s draconian Act 10 bill, Wisconsin’s union membership rate
had dropped from 14.2 percent to 8.3 percent of the workforce. The
impact of _Janus_ would be less immediate but would snowball over
time: Weaker, less effective unions have a harder time attracting

“If fair share fees are struck down, it simply won’t be possible
to provide the expertise to bargain with employers to increase wages
and benefits,” says John Matthews, the retired executive director of
Madison Teachers Inc., a National Education Association affiliate in

The erosion of public-sector unions means that public-sector jobs will
pay less and become less attractive, degrading not just a source of
good jobs but the critical public functions these workers serve. The
average annual salary and benefits for teachers in Wisconsin dropped
by $10,843 after Act 10 was passed, a 12.6 percent reduction. The
result has been a staggering shortage of teachers, including an
“extreme” shortage in math and science, forcing the state’s
independent Department of Education to reluctantly issue
“emergency” teacher’s licenses.

For the most part, the right-wing machine’s deeply financed,
organized and focused attack on workers has rolled its agenda through
without meaningful resistance from Democrats. To be sure, in
Wisconsin, the union-busting plan was met with one of the largest
sustained mass protests in labor history and a 16-day occupation of
the Capitol. Fourteen Democratic state senators even fled to Illinois
to block a vote on Act 10. But too often, the Democratic Party has
been asleep at the switch. First Jimmy Carter, then Bill Clinton, then
Barack Obama failed to pass a national “card check” program—a
measure that would have made forming a union as easy as signing a
postcard—while their party controlled both houses of Congress.

If the _Janus_ verdict goes against public-sector unions, the great
challenge for Democrats will not merely be one of funding, but one of
leadership. Who will step up to push for the renewal of trade unions,
not just for the party’s political future, but for a country that
cannot progress toward economic and social justice without a
prosperous and muscular labor movement? 

_MARY BOTTARI is the deputy director of the Center for Media and
Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD’s award-winning ALEC Exposed
investigation in 2011 and is a recipient of the Hillman Prize for
investigative journalism._

_This story was supported by the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for
Investigative Reporting. David Armiak and Elena Sucharetza provided
research assistance._



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