Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that millions of public sector workers can stop paying union fees, a group tied to Republican billionaires long opposed to organized labor and its support of the Democratic Party has pledged to build on the landmark ruling to further marginalize employee representation.
The conservative nonprofit Freedom Foundation said that starting Wednesday, it will deploy 80 people to a trio of West Coast union bastions: California, Oregon and its home state of Washington. The canvassers were hired in March and trained this month, according to internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg News. The goal of the multi-pronged campaign is to shrink union ranks in the three states by 127,000 members—and to offer an example for similar efforts targeting unions around the country.
“Their employer isn’t going to tell them, and the union isn’t going to tell them,” said the anti-union group’s labor policy director, Maxford Nelsen. “So it falls to organizations like the Freedom Foundation to take up that mantle and make sure that public employees are informed of their constitutional rights.”
The 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, with a majority of all-Republican appointees, threatens one of the last strongholds of America’s vanishing labor movement, a reliable source of support for the Democratic Party. Before today, public sector unions could require non-members to pay “agency” fees to fund collective bargaining efforts on behalf of all employees, since they benefit equally from representation. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito—appointed by President George W. Bush—said such a requirement violated employees’ rights under the First Amendment. The majority held that workers must affirmatively opt-in to pay any fees, making it more likely that unions will lose funding and thus the ability to negotiate wages and benefits on behalf of workers.
The Freedom Foundation has been waiting for this moment. In February, it began acquiring lists of workers and identifying public employees to feature in anti-union videos. This month, it has been assembling materials to provide to sympathetic local-government human resources departments and readying a toll-free call center.