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New Innovations in Union Busting



Stephen Greenhouse on the new right-wing effort to crush unions: astroturf door-to-door campaigns.

For several months, Shawna Murphy, a home-based childcare provider in Seattle, had received a stream of emails, letters and robocalls – some two dozen of them – telling her she had the right to stop paying union dues.

Then early one afternoon, while the six children in her charge were napping, a man with a briefcase knocked on her door. At first Murphy thought he was a lawyer, but then she realized he might be a state inspector of childcare providers. So she opened the door.

“He said there’s this supreme court case that will impact me, and he pulled out this leaflet and told me that I don’t have to be part of the union and don’t have to pay union dues,” said Murphy, a member of the Service Employees International Union. “I told him, ‘I’m a proud supporter of the union, and you can leave now.’”

The man was one of the many foot soldiers in a highly unusual offensive against public-sector unions in the US north-west. A conservative group, the Freedom Foundation, has dispatched activists to visit the homes of more than 10,000 childcare and home-care workers in Washington and Oregon to advise them that under a two-year-old supreme court decision, they can opt out of paying union dues.

Tom McCabe, chief executive officer of the fast-growing foundation, funded by a web of conservative groups, said: “My goal is to provide freedom to union members and to give them a choice about whether or not they want to belong to a union.”

But labor leaders and their progressive allies say the group’s goals go far beyond that. Washington state in particular has passed union-backed progressive legislation recently, enacting a $15-an-hour minimum wage and a law that will allow Uber drivers to unionize. They say the Freedom Foundation’s unorthodox tactics are part of a grand plan to weaken unions and their treasuries, sap their political influence and ultimately flip Washington and Oregon from Democratic to Republican.

The idea that Washington and Oregon are going to turn Republican is laughable with or without unions, but when you have this kind of money behind you, why not try it? And it is a real threat to unions. The uphill battle the Koch Brothers face is that they have turned most of the easy states to right-to-work. Doing so in states where you have entrenched liberalism like Washington and Oregon is a real uphill battle. I’d say they have a somewhat better chance in a state like New Hampshire or Rhode Island or maybe even New York where you have Democratic legislators with very little commitment to Democratic Party values. In any case, with the money they have, they are a real threat and if you can overturn labor legislation in Wisconsin and Michigan, you can do it anywhere under the right circumstances.

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  • dp

    Repeal Taft-Hartley!

    If Democrats ever regain control of Congress and the presidency, that should be the first priority.

    • Brett

      Agreed, especially since the next time Republicans get unified control of Congress and the Presidency, they’re going to gut the NLRA and NLRB (and probably pass a National Right to Work Law).

      • los

        “right to work” is really right to steal (fellow employees services).

        • MAJeff

          “right to work” is really right to steal (fellow employees services).

          It’s the parasitic free riders’ bill of rights.

  • cpinva

    wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy OT! got a call from GTUH, have a liver, my wife is the backup transplant recipient, going up now to have tests, etc. done, to see if she can handle the surgery. keep all fingers, toes and any other appendages you have crossed!

    • dp

      Best wishes on that.

    • postmodulator

      I wish you and your wife the very best fortune.

    • DocAmazing

      Felicidades y buena suerte.

    • DrDick

      Awesome! Sending positive vibes your way.

  • CrunchyFrog

    The fundamental problem with politics today is that the right wing has a billion times more spare cash – and they are choosing to invest it in every possible anti-democratic scheme they can think of in order to crush any opposition and give themselves even more billions.

    If ever the opportunity to impose a maximum income comes up again (as was in effect when the top marginal tax rates of first world nations were above 90%) there should be no hesitance in doing so and in implementing measures to prevent it ever changing again.

    • Brett

      This is basic door-to-door stuff, though. Democrats and other progressive advocacy groups can do it too – you just need to organize people to do it.

      • ColBatGuano

        Are these volunteers going door-to-door or paid by the foundation? I’m guessing there is pay involved.

  • AMK

    New York would indeed be an interesting case, where the progressive consensus ends the minute everyone at the cocktail party stops laughing at the evangelicals, gun-fondlers and assorted flyover cartoons. Bloombergism has no more use for unions than Kochism does.

    • CP

      Yeah, I think people often overestimate how liberal the most stereotypically “blue” cities are (not just on economics, the right wing tribalist base has a home in these places too; witness the NYPD). Labor unions and civil rights movements and the like have done a world of good work to make these cities better, but they had to fight tooth and nail for everything they’ve got and even now the old power centers still have their say.

      (The quintessential shorthand for America’s superwealthy robber-baron class is still “Wall Street,” after all).

    • JG

      While Dem legislators in NY may be crap, the unions are very strong and can hold the entire city hostage. The idea that you can pass right-to-work over the objections of the MTA, NYPD, and teachers’ union is rather absurd (though I wouldn’t be shocked if teachers got isolated and crushed in some not-to-distant dystopian future.)

  • Aaron Morrow

    Oregon is solidly Democratic, but Washington Republicans have controlled the State Senate for a few years now, are only two seats away in the State House, and lost the gubertorial race by 3 points.

    This year’s election should be better with presidential-level turnout, but it’s closer than one would think.

    • Brett

      Are they as bad as state-level Republicans elsewhere? Like, if they won control of the State Legislature and the gubernatorial race, would they immediately turn around and start spamming TRAP laws?

      That’s what scares me more than anything else about the modern Republican Party: how ideologically consistent they seem to be becoming. You can’t trust certain things to carry over through a change in party control anymore.

      • The Oregon Republican Party at least might as well be the Idaho Republican Party.

      • Aubergine

        Yes. Washington’s Republicans outside of the Seattle suburbs are pretty much knuckle-draggers. You can expect the ALEC playbook. Control of the state legislature, and for that matter the governor’s office, depends on the swing districts around Seattle. They started going Democratic as the Republicans got weirder, but as the Democrats have gotten lazy and complacent some of those districts have switched back to R, hence the narrow Republican majority in the state Senate. A big presidential year turnout should help matters, but if the D’s don’t use that opportunity to address the school funding issue and clean up some horribly-run state agencies, they will soon have their asses handed to them and then it’s Kansas on the coast.

  • The big problem is that these people never quit. Ever. Liberals think that once something is decided, the battle is done. For conservatives, nothing is decided until they’ve won.

    • MyDogMavis

      These guys are dogged in their pursuit of ruining everything good.

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