By Kim Cook
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The Janus Supreme Court case, just like the Wisconsin and Michigan so-called “right to work” laws, isn’t about freedom to choose—they are about taking away workers’ freedom to have a say and some power to improve our lives. Anti-union forces, from the right-wing think-tanks like the Freedom Foundation to big businesses to lobbyists to others, see unions as the single greatest obstacle to unbridled profit and control.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling (expected as early as April and as late as June), anti-union people will be talking to members of our unions about dropping their membership. I know, because I am the former president of SEIU Local 925, a public sector union in Washington State made up of family child care workers and other public service employees. After the Supreme Court decision in Harris v Quinn—which did to home care and child care workers what Janus will do for all public employees—the Freedom Foundation came after our members. The Freedom Foundation is a business non-profit in Washington State, and they spent boatloads of money trying to convince union members that we could save our dues or agency fee money and lose none of our rights. They even sent Christmas cards to our members, with the holiday message, “give yourself a raise.” Most importantly, they encouraged members to abandon the political agenda they called the union’s. (We call it the members’.) But the Freedom Foundation folks forgot to tell them about their own political agenda: privatize public education, end health care for those in need, roll back worker and environmental protections, and cut taxes for the very wealthy people and corporations based in our state.
The Freedom Foundation used every conceivable method for talking to Local 925 members—they got lists of union members through public information requests, and then used mail, email, telephone, website, videos to get their pro-business, anti-union message out. Most appalling, they went door to door, visiting members at home!
I recognize all those tactics because they’re the ones we use—at election time, and during new organizing drives. At our union, we recognized Harris as an organizing opportunity, and we used those tactics. Any union can – and I encourage you to!
I’m sorry to say this kind of frontal assault is not limited to Washington State: The Freedom Foundation is only one of over 60 similar organizations, at least one in every state, that is affiliated with the State Policy Network with the same anti-worker, anti-public education, anti-democratic political goals. These groups are funded by the Koch Brothers and the Walton Foundation (the Walmart heirs) —and we know what those kind of people want to do to our working conditions and our communities. Their funder reports read like a Who’s Who of Corporate America. (And Canada, we know if they could come for you, they would!)
Here are three lessons for stewards anticipating Janus and the right-to-work onslaught—no matter if you’re in a state or a province:
1) Prepare for this upcoming decision: Talk with your co-workers about why you’re committed to the union, who the anti-union people really are, and what they want.
2) Prime your co-workers: Tell them to expect the anti-union onslaught. You can even make it at least a little bit fun. Find an “anti-union bingo card” with slogans to expect at www.unionist.com.
3) Don’t stop at the workplace. Stewards are leaders in many areas of life, not just at work. Talk about workers rights and what kind of community we want wherever you go, from a PTA meeting, after a religious service, at the dog park, or wherever you make small talk.
Find more resources about Janus, and more, at www.unionist.com. How are you preparing for a new and bigger anti-union movement? Unionist is collecting your ideas on its Facebook page.
—Kim Cook is President Emeritus SEIU Local 925 and now an associate at Cornell’s Worker Institute, which powers Unionist.com and this publication.