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'Stop at Nothing' Plan to Destroy Nation's Union Power Includes $80 Million Koch- and Walmart-Funded War Chest

One labor leader said the effort makes clear that the landmark Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case is "brought by wealthy forces to eliminate worker voice and power"


Union members held signs during a rally outside of San Francisco City Hall on February 26, 2018 in San Francisco, California, as oral arguments began for the Janus V. AFSCME Supreme Court case. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Less than a week after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled legislation to strengthen trade unions across the United States, a new report reveals that a network of right-wing think tanks—funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers and the heirs to the Walmart fortune—has launched a nationwide campaign to destroy labor groups and undermine American workers' rights.

The purpose of the campaign—which boasts an $80 million war chest—is "to persuade public-sector trade union members to tear up their membership cards and stop paying dues, posing a direct threat to the progressive movement in America," according to the Guardian, which obtained internal documents detailing the group's primary goal of "permanently depriving the left from access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling union members every election cycle."

The campaign is the product of the State Policy Network (SPN), an alliance of 66 think tanks spread across the country. The documents include a "toolkit" in which SPN offers "advice to its followers on how to go about fomenting 'union reform'—a euphemism for draining unions of members and cash," the Guardian reports. The toolkit also outlines four "tactics" for depleting union power, including the opt-out direct-marketing campaign.

"Well run opt-out campaigns can cause public-sector unions to experience 5 to 20 percent declines in membership, costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in dues money," SPN claims in the documents. "This can affect the resources and attention available for union leaders to devote to political action campaigns."

SPN's national push to destroy unions comes after teachers in at least five states—Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Viriginia—recently turned out in droves to demand improved working conditions, and ahead of a monumental decison by Supreme Court regarding Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (AFSCME), which is generating anxiety among workers and labor rights advocates.

After the oral arguments for Janus in February, Bill Blum wrote for the Progressive that it seems "public employee unions across the country are destined for a crushing defeat," which he warned, "will transform the nation's public employment sector into one large "right-to-work" jurisdiction, and in the process deliver a huge victory to the most reactionary elements of corporate America and the Republican donor class."

The case, Blum explained, "is part and parcel of a long term right-wing project to undermine the social safety net, roll back civil rights, and complete what I and other legal commentators have termed a conservative 'judicial counterrevolution,' aimed at reshaping American law by gaining and maintaining control of the Supreme Court."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Guardian that the SPN documents obtained by the newspaper "make clear that Janus v. AFSCME is not a case brought by individuals trying to have a voice, it's a case brought by wealthy forces to eliminate worker voice and power."

The right-wing megadonors backing the SPN campaign "know working families only have power through their unity as a union, and they will stop at nothing to destroy that," Weingarten added. "But we have seen unprecedented support for our unions and the opportunities they enable for a better life—when the Janus decision day comes, we will stand united, ready to act and fight back against the forces that want to silence workers."

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