Anti-union extremists are working to destroy the labor movement, one member at a time.
Last month, the notoriously anti-union Koch network and its allies staged their annual campaign to encourage union members across the U.S. to stop paying dues.
The effort, joined by more than 100 anti-union organizations around the country, was held from Aug. 14-20 and sought to draw attention to right-to-work laws and to highlight workers’ ability to opt out of portions of union fees even in states without right-to-work laws.
More than 75 of the groups participating in the so-called “National Employee Freedom Week” received funding or had ties to organizations linked to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists behind right-to-work efforts in Missouri, Wisconsin, West Virginia and numerous other states. Koch-funded groups like Americans for Prosperity, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, have provided millions in funding over the last decade to organizations dedicated to weakening unions.
In the state of Washington, one of the Koch-backed groups participating in the campaign, the Freedom Foundation, has been using public records requests to obtain lists of state employees who belong to unions and then approaching members at their homes.
An Aug. 17 Wall Street Journal article detailed how Freedom Foundation volunteers have been knocking on doors, offering to save union members $10 or more per paycheck by opting out of the non-bargaining portion of union dues.
“Most of the conservative groups in Washington have never been engaged in hand-to-hand combat—and we are,” Tom McCabe, head of the Freedom Foundation, told the paper. In December, he sent members of his organization dressed in Santa hats to public union workplaces with signs reading, “Give yourself a Christmas bonus.”
In Missouri, Americans for Prosperity led the charge for right-to-work and paycheck fairness laws during the 2015-2016 legislative session, and state political coordinator Rudy Chavez said it was a frustrating fight even though working people ultimately won both battles.
“It’s discouraging to see a group like AFP parachute into our state and dump a ton of money aimed solely at destroying unions,” he said. “We’re the only voice left for workers, and if unions are gone, billionaires like the Kochs and their friends get to dictate the terms of employment to working people.”
After the right-to-work fight, which unions only won with the help of a handful of labor-friendly Republicans in the state legislature, AFP and others targeted those same Republicans in their primaries as payback. “We recently lost an important Republican ally in the House, Rep. Sheila Solon,” Chavez said. “She was with us, and they ambushed her.” Solon lost her primary to a Koch-backed challenger on Aug. 2. “We tried to help her, but it’s tough to compete with the amount of money they’re willing to spend.”
International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said efforts like the employee freedom week and right-to-work battles should remind every union member that we’re under constant attack from ideological groups who see unions and working people as a threat to their right-wing agendas. “The more time we spend educating our brothers and sisters about the real benefits they get from being a part of the IBEW, the stronger we’ll be,” he said.
During the same week conservatives were targeting union members across the country, researchers at the Midwest Economic Policy Institute released a study that found union construction members in Minnesota made an extra $5.59 after taxes for every dollar they paid in union dues. That figure was reached even before taking into account the improved health care and retirement benefits that come with union membership.
Nationally, union members make 27 percent more in total compensation than their nonunion counterparts, and union members are 60 percent more likely to be in employer-provided pension programs. According to the AFL-CIO, more than 79 percent of union members have employer-provided healthcare versus fewer than 50 percent of the nonunion workforce.
“We all know the benefits we gain from being a part of the IBEW,” Stephenson said. “We’ve got a responsibility to fight off these anti-union attacks, and by arming ourselves with facts, we’re in a much better position to do it.”