Labor Day Update: 'Right to work' laws expanding... Right wing alliance prepares broad attack on public worker unions...

While there were still a number of Labor Day events across the USA actually featuring "Labor" (meaning unions), the main features of the current era are the continuing attacks on unions by right wing activists of both the Republican and Democratic party kinds. (In case anyone forgets before we move on, the most sustained attacks on teacher unions and the most widespread school closings and charter school expansions in American history took place during the presidency of Barack Obama, when Arne Duncan and then John King were chiefs at the Education Department).

But on Labor Day, the Guardian reminded Americans that the attacks on unions continue. And now that private sector unionism is at a low not seen since the Gilded Age, the focus of the right wing is on public worker unions -- including especially teacher unions.


Rightwing Alliance Plots Assault to 'Defund and Defang' America's Unions by Ed Pilkington, August 30, 2017 The Guardian (US)

It ain't about negotiating union collective bargaining agreements and resolving grievances any more (Actually, militant unions never were about such goals!)! Conservative campaign aims to strike ‘mortal blow’ on government unions. This is ‘A once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse the failed policies of the American left’.

Rightwing activists across the US have launched a nationwide campaign to undermine progressive politicians by depriving them of a major source of support and funding – public sector unions.

A network of conservative thinktanks with outposts in all 50 states has embarked on a “breakthrough” campaign designed to strike a “mortal blow” against the American left. The aim is to “defund and defang” unions representing government employees as the first step towards ensuring the permanent collapse of progressive politics.

The campaign carries a powerful echo of the populist creed espoused by Donald Trump. The president was propelled into the White House last November after unexpected victories in several previously Democratic rust belt states including Michigan and Wisconsin, both of which have endured withering attacks on trade unions in recent years.

The new assault is being spearheaded by the State Policy Network (SPN), an alliance of 66 state-based thinktanks, or “ideas factories” as it calls them, with a combined annual budget of $80m. As suggested by its slogan – “State solutions. National impact” – the group outlines an aim to construct a rightwing hegemony throughout the US, working from the bottom up.

To do that, it first has to sweep aside the public sector unions and their historic ties to Democratic and progressive politicians. In a 10-page fundraising letter, part of a set of documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy and published by the Guardian today for the first time, SPN sets out its mission in frank language that does not disguise its partisan ambitions.

The author of the letter, SPN’s president and CEO Tracie Sharp,describes the $8m “breakthrough” campaign as a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse the failed policies of the American left … We are primed, right now, to deliver the mortal blow to permanently break its stranglehold on our society.”

Sharp pitches the battle against unions as the start of a war on progressive politics, with the ultimate goal of winning elections for rightwing candidates. “Big government unions are the biggest sources of funding and political muscle for the left – and a major obstacle to the ability of voters to reclaim control of American government. To win the battle for freedom, we must take the fight to the unions, state by state.”

The target of such union-bashing, she openly admits, is to “defund and defang one of our freedom movement’s most powerful opponents, the government unions”. The long-term objective is to “deal a major blow to the left’s ability to control government at the state and national levels. I’m talking about permanently depriving the left from access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling union members every election cycle” (emphasis in original).

SPN will be discussing its anti-union and anti-left agenda on Wednesday at its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Its morning session will look at how “labor reform” can be pursued with renewed vigor under the Trump administration.

The discussion will feature some of the key architects of SPN’s political strategy, including Vincent Vernuccio who pioneered anti-union legislation in Michigan, and Tom McCabe of the Freedom Foundation, who has sent his foot soldiers on an aggressive offensive against collective bargaining in the US north-west.

Mary Bottari, deputy director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) which tracks the rise of rightwing groups in America, said the fundraising letter and other SPN documents published by the Guardian cast light on the conservative game plan. “It’s very rare to catch conservative thinktanks talking so openly and blatantly about their long-term political aims. These documents reveal to us that SPN’s goals are entirely political – they have no concern for workers or union members, their only goal is winning elections to advance rightwing causes.”

Bottari added: “An $80m campaign to ‘defund and defang’ public sector unions is remarkable, both in its size and in its ambition.”

Public sector unions have come under growing fire from conservatives in recent years. While unions operating in private companies have been diminished since the 1980s – their membership plummeting from about 17% of the workforce in 1983 to just 6% today – their equivalents in the public sector such as teacher, local government, police and fire officer unions have remained relatively stable, at around 35%.

But in 2010, Scott Walker, the newly elected governor of Wisconsin, opened a new front in America’s partisan war when he passed Act 10, stripping public sector unions of the power to bargain collectively and forcing them to re-certify themselves every year with electoral backing from more than 50% of all workers, not just those voting. The move has spawned a rash of imitations across Republican-controlled states, with Iowa and Indiana passing similar laws, and a further 15 states introducing legislation – encouraged by SPN, which has framed a model bill to make it easier for Republican legislators to adopt the changes.

A total of 28 states have also passed “right to work” laws that allow workers in private companies to refuse to join unions despite enjoying the fruits of collective bargaining.

Though the long-term consequences of such union restrictions have yet to be fully understood, there are early indications that the impact could be profound even at presidential level. Since Act 10 came into effect in Wisconsin, public sector union membership has slumped by 40%, or about 136,000 people.

Trump won Wisconsin last November by just 23,000 votes.

A similar pattern can be seen in Michigan where unions have shrunk steadily since a right-to-work law came into effect in 2013, with a loss of at least 30,000 members. Trump took Michigan, to the shock of Hillary Clinton and her supporters, by just 11,000 votes.

When asked whether anti-union laws in Michigan and Wisconsin had affected the outcome of the presidential race, Matt Patterson of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform said: “No question in my mind. Hard to fight when your bazooka’s been replaced by a squirt gun.”

Carrie Conko, SPN’s vice president of communications, said that the network does not involve itself in political campaigns. “Labor reform is an issue where SPN has been clearly on the side of workers who are against forced unionization and the use of their hard-earned wages to support causes they don’t believe in. If workers choose to support their unions agenda that is fine – but, right now, in many states they don’t have a choice or a voice.”

Conko’s statement echoed the language used in an SPN “toolkit”, also published here for the first time, that advises Republican policymakers on how to campaign for anti-union legislation. “Be pro-worker, not anti-union,” the pamphlet says. “Frame union reform from the point of view of the members and how the reform helps them have a greater voice in their union. Don’t rant against unions. We’ve all been frustrated by the actions of public sector unions to block pro-freedom reforms, but publicly venting these feelings is counterproductive.”

SPN’s disclosure of its political and partisan objectives in the new documents could arouse the interest of investigators from the Internal Revenue Service. The group is constituted as a 501(c)(3) organisation, which renders it exempt as a charity from taxation.

Marc Owens, a partner with Loeb & Loeb who worked as an IRS lawyer specializing in charitable tax exemptions, said that the provision was designed for charitable purposes, not for lobbying against public sector unions or for activities to influence the outcome of elections. “A charity that does those things is not engaging in charitable activities and that puts its tax exempt status in jeopardy,” he said.

Conko told the Guardian that SPN takes “great care to be fully in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations”.

Ed Pilkington is the chief reporter for Guardian US. He is a former national and foreign editor of the paper, and author of Beyond the Mother Country.


September 5, 2017 at 6:24 PM

By: Keith Plum

The only unions left

In a few years the only workers who might have the right to benefit from collective bargaining are professional athletes. Crazy.

September 19, 2017 at 9:48 AM

By: Jean Schwab


I was about ten minutes early for the FY18 Capital Plan hearing, one of four, at 6:00 -8:00, at Bridge Elementary School,3800 N. New England Ave. on August 21. I have attended a couple of hearings on budgets before and was looking forward to the large crowds and many questions from the audience. I noticed right away that no handout was given so I could follow along with the meeting. I also noticed an almost empty room. The crowd did pick up to about twenty people by the end of the meeting. The moderator introduced herself, and a powerpoint of the plan was on the screen. The moderator read the PowerPoint. I tried to take pictures so later I could digest the article myself since it was hard to hear the moderator. My pictures did not come out very well.

The total of the budget for FY18 is $136 million for urgent facility renovations and maintenance projects, IT investments and school security equipment, all building upon last year’s substantial capital investments. These projects will be funded by CPS bonds, the sale of real estate proceeds, and potential outside sources.

• Facility needs, $109,000

• IT and Security investments, $7,316

• Program Management and Design, $12,918

• Potential Externally Funded Projects, $7,000

• Total FY18 Capital Budget, $136,231

The power Point stated that FY17 capital plan included: $938 million of investments across the city. The projects focus on overcrowding, program investment and campus sites and playlots. The FY17 ORIGINAL AND supplemental Plan included $938 million of investment in the following Categories: in millions

• Facility Relief, $317.1

• Overcrowding, $266.3

• New School Construction, $150

• Programic investment, $60.8

• IT and other projects, 57.4

• Site improvement, $ 35.3

• Air Conditioning, $27.0

• Program management and design, $23.9

• Total, $937.8

We were then shown pictures of beautiful playlots, new buildings and improvements, but I am not clear about which schools received these improvements. We then saw a PowerPoint of a map showing where improvements were made. The map was not clear and it was hard to pinpoint which schools received improvements.


The LSC chair from Palmer Elementary asked how schools were chosen? She was told that the buildings were inspected and also the neighborhood was in need because of overcrowding and look at the district. They tried to get the neighborhoods and buildings with the most needs. The chair of the LSC told the speaker that Palmer has severe water damage and paint peeling off the walls, one stairway and the modular classroom also has severe water damage, and warped floors. Palmer is a 1+ school with 771 students mostly Latino.

Next speaker was an LSC member from Hanson Park Elementary School, who stated that they have one small gym and one small lunchroom. It takes three hours to feed everyone. The school is a 1+ and over capacity with 1,427 students mostly Latino.

Next to speak was Alderman Gilbert Villegas of the 36th Ward. He has parts of Montclair, Belmont Craigin, Hermosa and Portage Park in his ward. Villegas stated that he was at the meeting to support the Belmont Craigin community and the Hermosa Community, which has a severe overcrowding problem. Villegas stated that he saw on the slides how a billion dollars was selected for overcrowded schools. The schools in our community are doing well, but at the same time we have a severe overcrowding problem. Villegas saw on the slide how funds for infrastructure improvement were given to the south and west sides, where the population has decreased, and at the same time, he did not see any improvement plans for this side of the city. Latinos make up 47% of the school population and their families pay taxes, yet their schools are not represented. How were the funds were distributed?

An LSC member at Norman Bridge School, a 1+ school with 1, 050 students, explained that their school also needs improvements. Bridge has two buildings, a junior high on Addison Street and an elementary school on New England Street which is sometimes difficult for parents with children in both buildings. He explained that the gym has leaked for fifteen days. The playground is old -bad. Outside the school the sidewalk looks nice but several people have been hurt.

Jerry Skinner, member of Chicago Teachers Union and former teacher at Kelvyn Park High School, asked about the $150 million used for new construction. He was told that two schools have been built. After the meeting, Skinner described how Kelvyn Park at one time had 1,600 high school students in four grades and now has 429 students in 6 grades including intermediate grades and high school. This summer 7 teachers and 4 support staff were laid off. He said for a long time Kelvyn Park campaigned for a new school to relieve overcrowding, so North Grand was built, which took students away. Now students are leaving Kelvyn Park to attend surrounding charter schools.

The moderator explained that there is a website on CPS that will take their complaints.

There were no more comments, so the moderator closed the meeting at 6:30 pm.

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