An $80 million con is targeting public workers


By AFSCME International

As the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the anti-worker Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case in February, a group of men in designer suits demonstrated with a deceptive message.

These men – sent by the billionaires and special interests bankrolling the lawsuit – held signs that read “Stand with Workers” while shouting anti-union slogans. No one was fooled.

Workers weren’t fooled a year earlier, either, when members of this same anti-union group crashed an orientation for new homecare providers.

“They were speaking to the (homecare) providers, telling them that they did not need to pay union dues – that they could put that money back in their pockets, that they could pay themselves, and that they would still receive the same benefits, which is a very untrue statement,” says worker Toni Monique Taloa, a member of United Domestic Workers/AFSCME Local 3930.

Both propaganda events were sponsored by the State Policy Network (SPN), an organization of more than 100 anti-union, anti-worker affiliates. Their goal, in their own words, is to “defund and defang”  public service labor unions like AFSCME.

Why? Because when unions are strong, workers have more power over their jobs, working conditions and quality of life. Workers have higher wages, better healthcare and dignified retirements. We win sick leave, parental leaves and vacations. We improve our workplaces and our communities. That all hits the pocketbooks of SPN’s billionaire funders, who want evermore power and money.

Soon, you may hear from slick representatives of SPN allies like the Freedom Foundation and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy yourself.

They’re going to try to dupe you and other workers into giving up your rights, and hurting your pay and benefits by dropping your union membership.  They need to use these dirty tricks and lies because they know no working person would willingly give up job security or give back union-negotiated pay raises and benefits like health insurance or a pension.

The tactics SPN and its allies use include:

  • Mailing you
  • Calling
  • Coming to your house
  • Turning up at your workplace, unannounced and uninvited

They’ll tell you that if you leave the union, you’ll be giving yourself a raise when, actually, you’ll be hurting your chances for getting one in your next contract. They’ll try to seem like they’re on your side.

The opposite is true.

Unions work based on one simple premise: power in numbers. When more people join together in a union, they have more power to negotiate with management for things like good pay, stable hours, fair treatment and benefits. And because the union is required by law to represent and negotiate on behalf of all employees equally — members and nonmembers alike — every person who opts to drop out and receive those benefits for free actually weakens their union.

Weaker unions are just what SPN wants, and they’re spending $80 million to accomplish their goal. The network, made up of wealthy special interests, wants to weaken our bargaining power and our right to due process in the workplace. For decades, unions have been one of the few remaining checks on the power of corporations and the super-rich, and SPN wants to end that.

That’s why SPN is funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into its broad assault on working people. It spreads misinformation on the ground and online. It backs state and local measures designed to curtail workers’ rights. It blocks worker- and community-friendly policies such as paid sick leave and minimum wage increases, and promotes outsourcing and privatization. SPN aggressively pushes its agenda through the courts; Janus is just the most recent example.

And SPN will invade your privacy to find you.

The Freedom Foundation already has requested home addresses and information  including dates of birth for public workers in Oregon. On the West Coast, they’ve used similar information to send their activists to the homes of more than 10,000 childcare and homecare workers, according to The Guardian.  Employees, including a domestic violence survivor and criminal justice workers, have expressed concern for their safety.

“It’s important to protect our union members from invasion of their privacy and from harassment from anti-union groups,” says Jack Stone, an Oregon corrections officer and member of AFSCME Local 405. “It’s vital to secure our personal information to protect ourselves and our families.” 

Billionaires and CEOs are spending their time and money because they want to take our country back to the days before unions when public service workers earned low wages with few benefits, their career prospects subject to the political whims of whichever party held power.

They want to virtually eliminate collective bargaining, as they did in Wisconsin. Since Gov. Walker signed Act 10  into law, Wisconsin state employees now pay roughly $400 more per month for health insurance. Teacher compensation has declined by 8.6 percent, says a 2017 report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. 

“We need to stand together so that we will have strength together,” Taloa says. “When we are under attack by a predator, we need to be in a pack together.”

Working people only have power in numbers. The more we stick with our unions, the more power we have to negotiate good pay, benefits and working conditions. If people quit their unions, that power goes away.

United we bargain, divided we beg.

NOTE: Together, SPN and its affiliates enjoy an annual budget of more than $80 million, thanks to the deep pockets of the Koch brothers’ secretive network of billionaires and CEOs and other powerful funders such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation has poured more than $30 million into supporting an assault on union rights through the courts.  Another $10 million online disinformation campaign aimed at public service workers — called “My Pay, My Say” — was recently launched by the Mackinac Center.