Across the Pacific Northwest and beyond, the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly thrust home-based caregivers and nursing home staff onto the front lines of a dangerous health battle. These are the critical healthcare workers who provide care for people in need at their home, or who are hired to care for patients in retirement homes. They are vital to the health and safety of people who are most susceptible to the worst of the coronavirus.
Many of these workers have unionized to fight for better wages, benefits, and workplace protections. Due to their unionized status, they have caught the attention of anti-union groups and have been shamelessly under attack for years. One of their assailants is a struggling right-wing political group based in Olympia, ironically calling itself the Freedom Foundation. This billionaire-funded group has spent millions trying – and failing – to destroy the unions representing frontline healthcare workers.
Historically underpaid and undervalued, home healthcare workers have organized for decades to demand fair wages and earn reasonable workplace benefits like paid sick leave and health insurance. How did the anti-worker Freedom Foundation respond? By trying to strip these workers of their hard-fought gains.
The billionaire-funded group has repeatedly argued against raising the minimum wage and has fought against paid sick leave laws, the exact kinds of protection workers so desperately need right now. The Freedom Foundation is currently under investigation for allegedly purchasing stolen membership lists from one of the labor unions representing these workers.
Most recently, they took credit for a Trump administration policy that would discriminate against home healthcare unions, forcing on them anti-union rules that most other unions aren’t required to follow. In actuality, the Freedom Foundation had no role in the rule change, but it didn’t prevent them from bragging about it to their gullible funders at secretive fundraising meetings – meetings that the Northwest Accountability Project was able to attend.
The front lines of this pandemic battle have been drawn, and as a nation we are redefining what it means to be an “essential worker.” Custodians, grocery store workers, restaurant staff, nursing home aides and home healthcare workers are who we rely on more than ever to keep our country safe and functional. The anti-worker Freedom Foundation and their extreme allies have taken a different course, continuing to cynically target workers’ wages, benefits, livelihoods, and labor unions. As workers prepare for an enormous battle against a new foe, the coronavirus, it’s clear the anti-union Freedom Foundation continues to be on the wrong side of the fight.
Our nation is grappling with an unprecedented crisis. Nowhere in America has the stress and strain of coronavirus been felt more acutely than in the Pacific Northwest, where Washington state maintains the unfortunate distinction of the outbreak’s epicenter. As our communities take precautions to stop the spread of the virus, it is critical that the protocols and advice of experts are heeded.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that employers “actively encourage sick employees to stay home.” For workers without access to paid sick leave, however, following this advice can have devastating financial consequences. A report by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the average worker without access to paid sick leave who needs to stay home for three days lost wages that amounted to a household’s entire monthly grocery budget. It’s more critical now than ever that workers can stay home when they’re sick without losing the ability to put food on the table, and in this time of crisis, the sheer cruelty of the billionaire-funded opposition to this life-saving policy by groups like the Freedom Foundation is all the more disturbing.
The Freedom Foundation has long argued against paid sick leave policies for working people, writing them off as ineffective and burdensome. Their Director of Labor Policy Maxford Nelson went as far as to declare that life-saving paid sick leave policies are a cure “worse than the disease.” Nelson went on to argue that “the evidence indicates that these ineffective measures do little more than soothe the consciences of labor activists.” This is patently false and yet another Freedom Foundation lie. A study by the American Public Health Association found that granting workers paid sick days helps reduce the spread of illnesses like the flu, concluding that one or two sick days reduced workplace infections by over 25% and 39%, respectively.
The Freedom Foundation, no stranger to spreading misinformation, made the bewildering claim that “workplace illness does not appear to be a widespread problem” in a 2014 report authored by Nelsen. In the face of coronavirus, the absurdity of this statement needs no elaboration. It’s even more insidious that the Freedom Foundation made this claim just years after the CDC estimated that an additional five million people contracted the 2009 H1N1 virus due to the lack of workplace policies such as paid sick leave.
One may wonder why the Freedom Foundation would choose to back a position that so clearly flies in the face of reason and human decency, but their motivations are simple: the Freedom Foundation’s sole purpose is to make it easier for their billionaire funders to pad their bottom lines. Providing workers paid sick leave so they can care for themselves, their families, and help to prevent the spread of a deadly virus doesn’t fit into their vision of a world where employers seek to turn a profit at any cost and workers are powerless to fight back.
Fortunately for working people on the West Coast, the Freedom Foundation has failed miserably at advancing their anti-worker agenda. Since the Freedom Foundation’s launch of their anti-union campaign nearly six years ago, Oregon, California, and Washington have all passed mandatory paid sick leave laws. While these workers will have the opportunity to take the steps needed to care for themselves and others during this daunting time, it’s vital that we remain vigilant and prepared to fight back as the Freedom Foundation attempts to push their cruel and dangerous anti-worker agenda in other states.
In mid-February, New York Magazine broke a story that the Washington State-based Rotella Foundation was a key funder of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and his National Policy Institute. Spencer is one of the leaders of the modern-day white supremacist movement, helping to organize the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville which brought together white supremacists from across the country. The rally ended tragically with a deadly hit and run and a white supremacist charged with murder. Spencer is also an ardent supporter of Donald Trump. At a gathering of other neo-Nazis after Trump was elected in 2016, Spencer started off his speech with “Hail Trump, Hail our people, Hail victory,” a tribute to the notorious Nazi greeting. The most egregious portions of his speech can be viewed here.
Richard Spencer chanting “Hail Trump, Hail our people, Hail victory” in 2016.
In addition to funding a neo-Nazi, the Rotella Foundation is also a funder of the Washington Policy Center and the Freedom Foundation, two extremist anti-union organizations based in the Northwest. The Northwest Accountability Project (NWAP) has long documented the linkages between the white supremacist movement and the anti-union movement. Billionaire funders like Wisconsin’s Bradley Foundation (the Freedom Foundation’s largest funder) and Pennsylvania’s Sarah Scaife Foundation fund white supremacists like Charles Murray and anti-immigrant hate groups like the so-called Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform
Billionaires are working to sow division and discord amongst working people because they know that unified workers are the greatest threat to their bottom lines as they are more likely to win higher wages, better healthcare, stronger retirement benefits, and more funding for public education. Unions bring workers together while the billionaire backers of these organizations try to divide and conquer.
The Freedom Foundation and Washington Policy Center are part of this effort but they attempt to hide this connection by refusing to disclose their donors. They have worked tirelessly to keep their funding secretive. Most recently, they lobbied the IRS for more secrecy for their benefactors, a move that makes sense with the likes of the Rotella Foundation on their donor roll.
To this point, both the Freedom Foundation and Washington Policy Center have been massive failures in their mission to divide working people and destroy unions. Working families know that their wages and benefits are won at the bargaining table and the only way to be effective is to stay unified.
The Freedom Foundation Wants to Gut Your PensionFebruary 27, 2020
It’s no secret the billionaire-funded Freedom Foundation is trying to destroy unions to enact a political agenda that would cut wages, gut pensions, slash education funding, and make healthcare harder to access. It’s also no secret that they tell lies. A lot of lies. They lie to the press, they lie to the public, and they even lie to union members.
For instance, they have long been an advocate for cutting public employee pensions but now they are pretending to care about public sector workers as they try and fail to coerce them into dropping their union membership. Because they have been exposed by the Northwest Accountability Project and others, they have seemingly turned to their high-priced pollsters to concoct messaging around issues like pensions that make their platform seem less harmful and destructive to working families. Their latest refrain is that they want to get pensions “on a healthier and stronger footing.”
Make no mistake, this is coded wording for “cut pensions.” But don’t take it from us, read their own words. Their CEO, (who enjoys a quarter of a million dollar a year compensation) said: “We can’t afford the excessive pension benefits we’ve given to unions over the years” while their former Oregon Director once said that public sector workers were awarded “handsome salaries and lavish benefits.” Mind you, “public sector worker” includes firefighters, nurses, teachers, social workers, and many other public servants that help our states function.
But it’s also an official position of the Freedom Foundation. They co-wrote a report with the extremist, right-wing astroturf organization known as ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) in which they outlined their plan to slash the wages and benefits of public sector workers including cutting their pension benefits and allowing them to be run by their Wall Street cronies.
This is shameful and wrong as many working families rely on loved ones’ pensions to live a free, dignified, and happy retirement.
This deception is yet another reason why the Freedom Foundation’s $20 million+ campaign has been such a miserable failure.
It’s been well documented by the Northwest Accountability Project that the anti-worker Freedom Foundation/Opt Out Today is one of the most dishonest organizations operating along the West Coast. There have been multiple reports of their staffers impersonating union staff and lying to public employees. More recently, in a desperate move to convince union members to drop their membership, they actually used the union’s name in the signatory line of an email, a likely case of fraudulent behavior in what appears to be an attempt to deceive workers about the identity of the sender.
This unethical and likely illegal action is the kind of thing that we have become accustomed to from the failing right-wing “think tank.” The Freedom Foundation has not delivered on their mission to destroy unions along the West Coast, despite spending more than $20 million dollars, and are desperate to appease their out-of-state billionaire funders.
In addition to these violations, the Freedom Foundation and their leadership have a long history of violating state and federal laws by abusing their non-profit tax-exempt status to push a partisan, political agenda. This past October, the Washington Attorney General called them a “repeat offender” of the state’s campaign finance laws.