Because the right had been preparing for years, the minute the decision in Janus v. AFSCME came down, the right-wing advertising campaign to get public-sector union members to drop their membership began. Unions from around the country heard reports of emails attempting to entice members to give themselves a raise by voluntarily leaving their union. The Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for public-sector unions to collect agency shop fees from nonmembers for the services and benefits they receive as employees represented by the union in collective bargaining.
Because the Janus case, and others like it, were financed and promoted by well-funded right-wing, anti-union political organizations, the immediate anti-union campaign is no surprise. While Mark Janus, the plaintiff in the case, claimed that the case was about nonmembers protecting their free speech rights, the real purpose of the case was to deprive unions of funding and to weaken their power, the end goal being to disempower the working class as a whole.
PSC members – and members of all public employee unions – must be on the lookout for the deceptive means the far right is using to diminish union power.
In Florida, Texas and other states, anti-union activists have set up so-called alternatives to unions – groups with low-cost membership fees that offer certain benefits and services. The idea is to siphon members away from real unions.
The Florida Times-Union reported that the Professional Educators Network, “a statewide nonprofit that provides legal support, lawsuit liability insurance and professional development, found a major backer this summer in Gary Chartrand…a Jacksonville marketing executive [who] has also made large contributions through his foundation to Teach for America and the Knowledge Is Power Program.” One of the group’s supporters boasted that it “isn’t political” but the group’s membership costs “$180 a year compared with $680 for the [local teachers’] union.”
The scheme couldn’t be clearer: entice workers with a low-cost reason to drop their union membership in exchange for a few benefits, but without the ability to negotiate and enforce contracts effectively or to build a democratic organization that fights for education and unites workers. Don’t be fooled if you see advertisements for things like this. They aren’t unions. They are union-busting tools.
Under the guise of merely informing public servants of their rights in a post-Janus world, one New York anti-union activist named Bob Bellafiore swung into action after the court ruling, emailing hundreds of PSC members via a new website called New Choice NY. Bellafiore claimed to the press that his group is about providing workers “factual information” about their rights, not busting unions.
The PSC said in a statement, “Don’t be fooled by the false innocence of Bellafiore’s email. His message is just what we expected in the weeks following the Supreme Court’s Janus decision. It probably won’t be the last such message you receive. Their aim is to change the law and the balance of power in the United States so that working people own less and less wealth, and the public sector is destroyed – or turned into a source of private profit. They are part of the same network of groups that funded the Janus case.”
THE BROAD ATTACK
National Public Radio correspondent and longtime education writer Anya Kamenetz investigated the well-financed groups, some of whom have influence extending into the highest reaches of the federal government.
“The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, based in Michigan, is running My Pay, My Say as a national campaign. The Freedom Foundation, with headquarters in Washington State, is targeting teachers in Oregon, Washington and California with the slogan, Opt Out Today,” she wrote on NPR Ed. “Other groups targeting teachers and public employees in specific states include: the Commonwealth Foundation, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, the Center of the American Experiment, the Center for Union Facts, and Americans for Prosperity. The outreach tactics include paper mail, phone calls, emails, hotlines, Facebook ads, billboards, TV advertising and even door-to-door canvassing. Organizations are using publicly available email addresses to reach their targets, as well as purchasing mailing lists.”
The report continued, “The groups behind the opt-out campaign, which describe themselves as conservative, libertarian or free-market, share many donors in common, such as the State Policy Network, the Donors’ Fund and DonorsTrust. Many of these groups have long opposed not only agency fees, but teachers’ unions in general, on the grounds that they inhibit education reforms such as vouchers and charter schools.”
NPR also found that this effort fit right into the vision of the nation’s top education executive, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has long been criticized for wanting to privatize education. “According to an analysis of tax filings by the website Conservative Transparency, the top contributors to the Mackinac Center specifically include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, and the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (formerly the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation). These are the family foundations of the US education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her husband’s parents.”
The first step in fighting off these scams is to know what they look like, where they are coming from, who is financing them and why they are coming into the inboxes of union members.
The next step is crucial: fighting back. The best way to do that is to keep the union strong and for union members to stay committed to their union in the face of these attacks. New CUNY hires can sign up for PSC membership.