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Freedom Foundation celebrates milestone in battle against forced public-sector union dues

(The Center Square) – The Freedom Foundation is celebrating a milestone in its efforts to reverse what it considers to be the stranglehold public-sector unions have on government. The Olympia-based think tank estimates it has assisted 100,000 employees in opting out of public-sector union membership and stopping dues deductions, denying said unions $150 million in lost dues and revenues.

The organization’s campaign against forcing public-sector workers from having to pay union fees if they don't want to comes amid the backdrop of two relatively recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving public-sector unions: Harris v. Quinn in 2014 and Janus v. AFSCME in 2018.

In the former, the high court ruled home health care workers in Illinois can’t be compelled to financially support a union they don’t wish to join. The justices stopped short of striking down those state laws as unconstitutional via a more narrow ruling that home health care workers in the case are not “full-fledged public employees” because they are hired and fired by individual patients and work in private homes.

In the latter case – also involving an Illinois law – the court in a landmark decision ended compelled union dues for public employees. The court held that such dues violated the First Amendment rights of non-union workers in having the state force them to pay union fees against their will. The Freedom Foundation submitted an amicus brief in the Janus case.

“We know from experience that public employees are eager for information about their rights and don’t want to subsidize the extreme agenda of union bosses,” Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe said in news release. “This is a great day for individual liberty in America and a major accomplishment for the Freedom Foundation, but we won’t stop until we empower every public employee in the country with the ability to make an informed decision about union membership.”

Toward that end, the Freedom Foundation – founded in 1991 by Bob Williams and Lynn Harsh as the Evergreen Freedom Foundation – has expanded into other states, with offices in Oregon, California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The Freedom Foundation’s focus on public-sector unions and subsequent expansion from a regional think tank into a national organization began under previous CEO Tom McCabe, who served in that capacity from 2013 through 2020.

“We’re in almost every state in terms of outreach to public-sector employees,” said Ashley Varner, vice president of Communications and Federal Affairs for the Freedom Foundation.

A holiday-themed outreach to public employees on the East Coast – including staffers and volunteers dressed up as Santa Claus – is set to take place from Nov. 29 through Dec. 7 and includes stops in the District of Columbia suburbs of Northern Virginia and Maryland, as well as Dover, Delaware; Trenton, New Jersey; Albany, New York; Montpelier, Vermont; Concord, New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; and Hartford, Connecticut.

The Freedom Foundation has its work cut out for it in terms of the more public-sector union-friendly presidency of Joe Biden.

“The Biden administration is keen on eradicating right-to-work across the country,” Varner said, as well as pursuing forced union dues in spite of the Janus decision.

The share of American workers who belong to a union – both public-sector and private – has fallen since 1983, when 20% of workers were union members, although that figure did rise slightly between 2019 and 2020, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual report released in January. Overall union membership ticked up to 10.8% in 2020, an increase of 0.5% from 2019.

Public-sector union rates also increased in that same time period to 34.8% from 33.6%, according to the BLS report.

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