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News + PoliticsLaborRadical right group is trying to attack public-sector labor in SF

Radical right group is trying to attack public-sector labor in SF

Anti-union mailers are going to workers home addresses -- but really, this group is looking pretty desperate.


A far-right organization in Olympia, Washington that is devoted to ending the political power of public-sector unions has been sending mailers to SF city employees urging them to opt out of their union dues.

The mailers have been sent to workers’ home addresses, which the city does not disclose, meaning the well-funded group has made a significant effort to track down private information about union members.

These mailers come from a radical-right-wing group in Olympia Washington.

The mailers have the name “OptOutToday” on them. That’s a website run by the Freedom Foundation, which is part of a national network of hard-core right-wing groups funded by some of the most anti-labor (and in some cases, anti-LGBT and anti-choice) organizations in the country.

Many of these groups are linked to the Koch Brothers.

The Freedom Foundation says its mission is

to promote individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government. … As strong advocates for individual liberty, we fundamentally believe that no worker should be forced to associate with or financially support a labor union as a condition of keeping their job.

What the group really stands for is destroying public-sector unions to promote a right-wing agenda.

It’s built an organizing operation after the US Supreme Court ruled that public employees who don’t want to be union members don’t have to pay union dues. The goal is to convince workers to “opt out” of their dues so that unions will have less money.

The organization was started in Washington State by its current CEO, Tom McCabe, who has been working for years to promote far-right causes and legislation in the Pacific Northwest.

This photo of McCabe on the group’s website shows a lot about his politics.

But he hasn’t had much luck – Washington and Oregon have been pretty consistently Democratic states. So McCabe decided to attack public-sector unions, which are a significant political force in those states.

From the Northwest Accountability Project, a labor-backed group that watches these folks:

On January 6, 2015, McCabe explained the organization’s rationale for attacking  labor unions to a group of attendees at the Freedom Foundation’s Free Washington Tour event in Shelton, Washington. According to those in attendance he told the audience that  taking down unions would be a blow to the Democratic Party and a boon for  Republicans: “When I got to the Freedom Foundation – it was about 13 months ago – I  told my staff, ‘we need to fight unions.’ Because unions have corrupted our state,  they have ensured that we’re the bluest state in the country. And I told my staff, all  these things we’re fighting for, whether it’s property rights, whether it’s lower  taxes, whether it’s less government spending, whether it’s agencies that are  duplicating efforts – all of that stuff cannot be accomplished until the power of unions has been dissipated, until we reduce that power of the union, until frankly we  defund it.” 

Scott Roberts, former Vice President of the Freedom Foundation laid bare the  Freedom Foundation’s mission at one of their Freedom Academies, a series of events they  hosted to train potential Republican candidates for office. 

 Among many of Roberts partisan statements at this event, the most telling was when  he said the following: “The Freedom Foundation has decided that in order to  advance anything that we want on the conservative side we first have to undo this undue influence cycle, the cycle of public sector unions giving money to politicians,  politicians being elected and then giving the unions more monopoly power.”

This is, of course, part of a national effort to attack organized labor to undermine support for the Democratic Party and progressive causes.

The Freedom Foundation is funded by some of the leading far-right groups in the country, including the Donors Capital Fund:

The Donors Capital Fund, affiliated with the Donors Trust, is a “donoradvised fund” that offers an extra layer of secrecy for its litany of right-wing benefactors that include the Bradley Family Foundation which was a big supporter of Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy unions in Wisconsin and was recently exposed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for funding this model nationally. The Bradley Foundation has also funded the Koch Brothers-backed Knowledge and Progress Fund and funds Charles Murray’s fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute. Charles Murray is the co-author of the controversial book the Bell Curve which argued that success in America could be attributed to white genes.

The group has a ten-point agenda that includes radically reducing the size of government and privatizing public-sector jobs.

That’s who is now trying to convince union members in San Francisco to stop paying dues.

Theresa Rutherford, San Francisco vice president for SEIU Local 1021, told me:

For years, the so-called “Freedom” Foundation has tried deceptive tactics to trick public sector workers into weakening our collective voice by leaving our union. You have to ask yourself—why does an organization funded by billionaires and based in Washington State care if Northern California’s public workers are members of their union? Make no mistake—it’s because this organization is funded by secretive billionaires who are pursuing their radical, far-right agenda to attack, defund, and privatize public services. 

The Freedom Foundation knows that when unions are weak, it’s easier to divide working people, privatize public services, gut retirement security, and drive down wages for both union and nonunion workers alike. The Freedom Foundation and their billionaire donors champion deceptively-titled “right to work” bills and judicial decisions like AFSCME v. Janus that aim to create an environment where workers have no benefits, no protections at work, low wages, and are in at-will employment arrangements where people can be fired at any time for any reason. They attack unions like SEIU 1021 because we stand for the opposite—raising wages, protecting health and safety standards on the job, creating security for working families, and defending the public services our communities rely on to thrive. 

The Freedom Foundation claims to be on the side of working people, but they are really on the side of private corporations and big business.

There’s a bit of desperation to the Freedom Foundation’s tactics; the Northwest Accountability Project notes that the group just hasn’t been very effective:

After more than four years, and tens of millions of dollars spent, The Freedom Foundation  and their funders simply have not had the impact they wanted. Oregon, California and Washington remain strong labor states.Working families keep winning well-deserved  compensation increases like the recent Los Angeles teachers strike, pro-worker policies keep  passing and pro-worker candidates keep winning. 

The 2018 election was perhaps the best indicator of the Freedom Foundation’s failures. Not only  did pro-labor candidates win races up and down the ballot along the West Coast, but unions  played a major role in influencing the outcome. In no uncertain terms, pro-labor Democrats won  everything they needed to in Oregon and increased their power in the state. The most important  race was between pro-labor Governor Kate Brown who signed historic minimum wage and paid  scheduling legislation into law and Representative Knute Buehler who said he would balance the  state budget on the backs of union members and their retirement benefits. Governor Kate Brown won reelection by more votes than her predecessor in the 2014 election, the Democrats now have  super majorities in the legislature and the four destructive ballot measures were soundly  defeated. One lost by an astounding 31 points.

So now they are in San Francisco.

I don’t know how they got the home addresses for the workers who have told me they got the mailings. The city, of course, doesn’t release that information. There are databases you can buy that have that information, but they are expensive and often inaccurate.

Still, the right-wingers don’t seem to be deterred.

I tried to reach the Freedom Foundation through the phone number on the flier and through the “contact” link on its website. So far, no response.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


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