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Freedom Foundation Targets Union Firefighters

They are politicizing the COVID-19 crisis to scare members into leaving their union

Brian Young's picture
May 08, 2020

In the middle of a pandemic, the Freedom Foundation is hoping to capitalize on the disaster by pushing public employees to opt-out of their union.

Teachers and firefighters in Washington state have reported receiving calls, mailings, and emails from the Freedom Foundation urging them to use the pandemic to leave their union. While public employees haven’t felt many of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 shutdown, like losing their jobs or benefits, the Freedom Foundation is fanning the flames of anxiety in an effort to increase opt-outs and please their corporate bosses who are seeking to profit off of the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

“With great uncertainty in the economy, one thing we can all do is look at what memberships and automatic deductions we have set up,” the Freedom Foundation wrote in one email to members of the Longview Teachers Union. “How much are you paying in union dues? Could you use the extra money right now as an emergency cushion?” the email continued. “Remember, you can always rejoin later when things get back to normal.”

Two firefighters also reported receiving a similar message left on a voicemail at a bar they own. One of the firefighters, Casey Sobol, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the message was in bad taste. “There’s a lot of people that are working day and night, whether it’s firefighters, police officers, people in health care, state workers,” he said. “It definitely didn’t hit very well, the message they were putting out there.”

Washington was one of the earliest and hardest-hit states during the pandemic, with over 16,000 cases and nearly 900 deaths.

The Freedom Foundation says that they are targeting public employees in Washington, Oregon, California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania with this round of opt-out calls and emails. After the Janus decision, the Freedom Foundation became a major player in pushing public employees to leave their unions. Much of their work was unsuccessful as union-friendly states like New York saw very few members leaving their unions. The organization is also lobbying state governments for a three-month moratorium on union dues collection for public employee unions.

While the Freedom Foundation readily admits that they are going after teachers, claiming that hundreds a week are opting out of their unions, they claim that they aren’t targeting first responder unions because they believe they aren’t “overtly political.” What they are really saying is that first responder unions aren't "liberal" unions like the teachers or SEIU. They also accused the firefighters of lying about being contacted. Of course, they were caught in a lie, just like the lie about hundreds of union members opting out every week, because Sobol had the recording of their call.

"At a time when our country has come together to fight COVID-19, all workers should be respected,” said Washington State Council of Firefighters President Dennis Lawson in a letter to the Freedom Foundation. “Especially those on the front lines battling the pandemic. . . during these uncertain times, our members know their union has their back and will fight for their rights and safety on the job. Fire fighters know that we are stronger when we stick together. . . right now we need unity, not hate and division.”

With more jobs and workers being put at risk, the importance of being a union member is becoming clearer by the day. So far, 175 wildcat strikes have occurred as employees who are both union and non-union exert their voice over safety and compensation. Concerns over budget cuts are also expected to mobilize members. “I don’t know that this will happen, but assuming there are budget cuts coming in most states of the country, those tend to strengthen people’s participation and interest in their unions,” said Gordon Lafer, a professor and labor researcher at the University of Oregon.

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