Anti-Union Think Tanks Converge To Convince Workers To Go It Alone (Video)

Labor Day is traditionally regarded as summer’s last hurrah.

Students and teachers return to school; the hot weather begins to cool (or at least it’s supposed to).

Many commemorate the holiday created to honor America’s workers by barbequing with family and friends, taking advantage of myriad department stores’ sales, or traveling before the next major holiday–Thanksgiving.

This Labor Day takes on new significance, though, since it is the first since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the landmark Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCMEcase.

Public sector unions dodged a bullet last year after the nation’s highest court deadlocked on the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) case that threatened to eliminate fair share fees–union dues–that support strong collective bargaining efforts.

Before that it was the 2014 Harris v. Quinn case.

Janus challenged public sector unions’ ability to collect fair share, or “agency,” fees from employees who receive representation and bargaining services unions are required to provide.

Since the Court decided to strip bargaining power from America’s workers, undermining their ability to unify around better wages, benefits, workplace protections and standards for working families, it has basically turned the entire workforce into a “right-to-work-for less” sector, fulfilling a dream Republicans and right-wing groups have shared for decades.

Now that their dream is a reality, they are taking their assault to the next level.

Conservative think tanks have been contacting union members via direct marketing campaigns to persuade them to stop paying their dues.

What are the implications of such an action?

According to internal documents The Guardian obtained from the “State Policy Network” (SPN), a national coalition comprised of 66 right-wing think tanks:

“Well run opt-out campaigns can cause public-sector unions to experience five 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 SPN “State Workplace Freedom” toolkit identifies five elements for effective anti-union messaging:

  1. Describe yourself as pro-worker instead of anti-union.
  2. Use union members (and former union members) as the face of the message.
  3. Avoid jargon.
  4. Be sure to speak to the whole community, not just union members.
  5. Use the language of choice and fairness.

Behind one of these myriad organizations intent on “permanently depriving the left from [sic] access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling union members every election cycle” is none other than Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Her family’s Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy has invested at least $325,000 in encouraging union members to walk away.

DeVos’s husband, Dick, once sat on its board.

Libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch–the notorious Koch brothers–are behind the “Freedom Foundation,” responsible for deploying paid anti-union canvassers to visit union members at home in states with strong union membership, like California and New York.

The Kochs’ “Americans for Prosperity Foundation” is funding anti-union advertising and supporting the DeVos’ Mackinac Center in addition to handing $250,000 to the “Center for Union Facts.”

In New York alone, the Mercers–Robert, Rebekah, and Diana–the wealthy Upper West-side Manhattan Republicans who spent millions on Sen. Ted Cruz’s failed presidential campaign, are using their organization, “Reclaim New York, “a Steve Bannon/Kellyanne Conway-founded non-profit that uses the state’s freedom-of-information laws (FOIL), to expose local public expenditures.

A favorite target is education spending, which has led to lawsuits against multiple school districts.

Chair of the “SUNY Charter School Institute” and “New Choice NY” is former NY Gov. George Pataki aide Robert Bellafiore.

His group is using the Mackinac Center‘s call center to contact union members, yet refuses to disclose its donors.

E.J. McMahon and Tim Hoefer are responsible for the “Empire Center for Public Policy,” which has been using FOIL requests to obtain teachers’ email addresses.

Hoefer reportedly has a spot on Bellafiore’s “New Choice NY” board.

But they are by no means all.

There are legions of shadow billionaires who have created or contribute to front groups out to eliminate unions’ presence.

So what does one do should an anti-union zealot come to his or her door, call, or send propaganda?

According to NYSUT United (pp. 15-16), the official publication of the New York State United Teachers:

Refuse to be hoodwinked. In fact, just ignore them. Delete their emails.
Hang up if they call. Inform your local president. And tell those union-busters they aren’t welcome here.

Recommit. Take a stand by joining or re-enrolling in our union.

Re-engage with your local. Union membership is an active proposition. Get involved. Attend
union events. Take action.”

The facts don’t lie.

Union employees earn an average of 30% more than non-unionized workers. They receive better health coverage–92% versus 68% for non-unionized workers–and are more likely to have guaranteed pensions.

Unions’ collective bargaining agreements–contracts–help protect employees from unjustified dismissal, unlike many nonunion “at-will” workers who can be fired at supervisors’ discretion.

Unions provide safer, more equitable, more democratic work environments, provide elected representatives to defend collective bargaining agreements, and serve as bulwarks between exploitative capitalism and civil rights.

This is precisely why so many deep-pocketed entities want to destroy them.

Image credit: California Policy Center

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.