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Op-ed: Spokane County commissioners anti-labor resolution waste of taxpayers dollars

Originally posted by The Spokesman-Review at spokesman.com on Feb. 9, 2019.

By Peter Starzynski

In December, two of the three Spokane County commissioners approved a resolution that could change the way the county conducts collective bargaining sessions with its employees. Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns approved the resolution, which was authored by a fringe political group from Olympia that calls itself the Freedom Foundation.

In December, two of the three Spokane County commissioners approved a resolution that could change the way the county conducts collective bargaining sessions with its employees. Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns approved the resolution, which was authored by a fringe political group from Olympia that calls itself the Freedom Foundation.

What the commissioners may not have realized is that the resolution is effectively dead on arrival and the whole process has been a waste of county resources. Earlier in 2018, the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), the state body that governs public employee/employer relations including collective bargaining, ruled that a prerequisite to bargaining is itself a condition and therefore an unfair labor practice, rendering these resolutions illegal. For the good of Spokane citizens, the commissioners should be more careful about whose guidance they follow in the future.

The Freedom Foundation is an anti-union organization from Western Washington that is funded by out-of-state billionaires. A member of the State Policy Network, they’re part of a nationwide effort to strip public workers of their power to organize for better wages, benefits and job security. Not surprisingly, this web of anti-worker organizations across the country is funded by corporate billionaires who want to shift the power away from employees and back in their favor. Most well-known among the funders are the infamous Charles and David Koch.

In 2016, the Freedom Foundation lobbied neighboring Lincoln County to pass a similar resolution, providing a template from which the resolution was written. The Lincoln County resolution was later ruled an unfair labor practice by the PERC. One attorney involved worried the commissioners were “unwitting pawns” of the Freedom Foundation, considering what lengths the Freedom Foundation was going to in pushing the resolution. In passing a similar resolution that could also end up ruled an unfair labor practice, the Spokane County commissioners have just wasted countless hours and taxpayer resources.

How did Commissioners French and Kerns come to ally with a job-killing group like the Freedom Foundation? The common link is county staffer Ron Valencia. Most recently he worked as a fundraiser for the Freedom Foundation, but now works as assistant to the Spokane County commissioners. This bizarre conflict of interest needs more examination by the public, and all records involving Valencia’s role in passing the resolutions and conversations he’s had with Freedom Foundation should be made public.

Central to the Freedom Foundation’s strategy is investing heavily in misleading propaganda. They proclaim themselves the champion of unionized workers, but their real mission is made crystal clear in a guidebook they helped author that was a step-by-step manual on how to paralyze governments, privatize public sector jobs and decimate worker pay and benefits. They have collected thousands of public employees’ personal data, including home addresses and work email addresses, to badger them about their union membership. To fully understand their disdain for public employees and their unions, look no further than their silence during the federal government shutdown, which left hundreds of thousands of public servants locked out of their jobs and without paychecks.

In regard to Spokane County politics and collective bargaining, the Freedom Foundation and their allies may throw out words like “transparency” and “openness,” but the reality is much darker – the Freedom Foundation wants to destroy well- paying public sector jobs in Spokane County.

For example, the Spokane County resolution pushed by the Freedom Foundation promises more transparency in negotiating with employee unions. This is more Freedom Foundation hollow wordplay, considering all employee union contracts are submitted and voted upon by the commissioners at a public meeting, where all are welcome. In other words, the collective bargaining contracts are already transparent and open.

The entire process of pushing through the new resolution in Spokane County has been marred by mysterious insider lobbying and deceptive propaganda, while also wasting time and taxpayer money. All to follow the lead of a fringe political group that wants to gut local jobs, benefits and wages. If their true goal is to better the lives of Spokane County families, the commissioners need to think twice about who guides their policy.

Teachers Triumph, Freedom Foundation Falters Again in California

After a historic six-day strike, Los Angeles teachers scored a major victory for working people and the nation’s public education system. Teachers in the country’s second-largest school system reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday that includes reduced class sizes, mandated support staff, raises for educators, and a pathway to cap corporate-funded charter schools.

This momentous achievement remains a direct result of the collective action of tens of thousands of educators and allies who braved uncharacteristically poor L.A. weather in a massive display of solidarity against the billionaire-funded assault on public education. This triumph is the latest in a nationwide wave of teacher activism and, rest assured, as working people flex their collective muscle for the greater good, there’s one organization that is none too pleased: the Freedom Foundation.

The Freedom Foundation’s campaigns in the Northwest have proven massive failures, wasting millions of their funders’ dollars while inadvertently boosting union membership in states like Washington. As their ineffectiveness in the Northwest became increasingly clear, the Freedom Foundation turned the attention of their failed “Opt Out Today” campaign to states like Vermont and Massachusetts through digital advertising. When it became clear that Los Angeles teachers would strike, the Freedom Foundation and their cohorts at the Koch-funded State Policy Network fixated on the Golden State and attempted to undermine striking teachers.

The California Policy Center, one of the state’s State Policy Network affiliates and ally of the Freedom Foundation, put up billboards badgering teachers about their union membership while Freedom Foundation staffers took to the L.A. Times to propagate their billionaire-funded agenda. Both organizations ran Facebook ads and a plethora of other social media posts aimed at causing division amongst striking educators. These tactics aren’t new for the anti-worker network; the Freedom Foundation has a history of actively trying to undermine striking teachers, including sending staffer Jami Lund to Oklahoma during the state’s 2018 teachers’ strike.

In their L.A. Times op-ed, Freedom Foundation vice president of operations Bob Wickers joined their California outreach director Sam Coleman to push a style of collective bargaining that they think will undermine unions. It’s something they have been pushing for years in Washington State and something the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) already ruled illegal. After failing in their home state, the Freedom Foundation seized on the opportunity of the L.A. strike to sow seeds of division and push their nonstarter policy initiative.

As long as working people are organized and fighting for the betterment of their communities, you can count on the national network of billionaire-funded front groups to show up in opposition. The Los Angeles strike was as much a fervent defense of public education as it was a movement to improve conditions for students and workers. The rapid expansion of unregulated, corporate-funded charter schools in Los Angeles is a direct result of a privatization campaign led by a small group of wealthy donors, including major State Policy Network funders like the Walton Family. Charter schools are predominately unorganized (for now). By bankrolling their expansion, billionaire donors see an opportunity to erode the power of unions and their support for pro-worker, pro-education policies. As the stated mission of the State Policy Network and the Freedom Foundation is to take away the power of organized workers and “defund and defang” unions, their support for charter schools falls right in line with their agenda.

The success of the L.A. teachers strike once again proved the power of working people. It also proved the Freedom Foundation is desperate to undermine workers whenever and wherever they unite. As they are wont to do, the Freedom Foundation and their partners once again failed.

The Freedom Foundation: Post-Janus

Public records reveal shocking pattern of environmental recklessness by homebuilder Conner Homes

In October, we announced that we would be doing a sweeping public records request regarding Charlie Conner, one of the leaders of the anti-worker Freedom Foundation (Opt Out Today). In addition to guiding the Freedom Foundation’s failed assault on working people in Washington, Charlie also owns Conner Homes, a residential development company based in Bellevue.  

We’ve scoured thousands of emails and permits between Conner Homes and the staff of local communities where Conner has been building across Western Washington, and what we’ve discovered in Conner’s track record is disturbing, and even dangerous. Building homes over industrially poisoned land, slashing acres of beloved neighborhood trees and allowing spills into protected wetland habitat are just a few of the shocking events we’ve uncovered.

We have also generated a list of all active and future Conner Homes projects, based on our public records requests and state registrations. Following, is the letter of warning that we will be sending to all residents near current and future Conner Homes projects as well as officials involved in the building process.

Dear neighbor,

We can all agree that our neighborhoods are precious, and we are writing to you about protecting yours. This letter is a warning that a home builder with a track record of environmental recklessness will be coming to your neighborhood soon, if they are not there already. That developer’s name is Conner Homes.

When developers come to your neighborhood, you can expect traffic jams, road closures, truck exhaust, construction noise and dusty air. When Conner Homes comes to build in your neighborhood, you may be in for much more.

Our organization just completed a search of all city and county building records by Conner Homes in the last five years, and we felt it imperative to prepare people like you, who may be impacted soon. Here’s what you need to know about Conner Homes’ history of environmental negligence in neighborhoods just like yours:

  • Willingness to build on poisoned ground:  We all want to live in a home where we know that our children and pets are safe from industrial poisons, yet Conner Homes knowingly built a Renton subdivision on land that was poisoned from years of arsenic use.  At the time of building, Charlie Conner (owner of Conner Homes) admitted that arsenic levels were still at 300 parts per billion, which scientists have determined can result in a range of ailments, including skin discoloration, stomach ache and diarrhea.  Additionally, Conner’s property was near a Superfund site, whose land was soaked with years of creosote, a noxious lumber sealant.
  • Clear-cutting neighborhood trees: The trees on our streets provide shade, character and habitat, but Conner Homes has shocked neighbors with massive losses of tree cover at his developments.  In the town of Sammamish, citizens were outraged when Conner cleared 45 acres of beloved neighborhood woods, leading to neighbor protests at the work site.  The woods were a protective buffer to adjacent Lake Sammamish and its rare run of spawning kokanee salmon.  The city had passed a new more restrictive tree ordinance before the Conner Homes clear-cut, but Conner Homes decided to disregard the ordinance because the ordinance passed after their initial permit to build was filed. Clearly choosing the company’s convenience over neighborhood welfare.  
  • Spilling worksite debris into neighborhood wetlands and streams: Our wetlands are an essential habitat for wildlife, and a crucial filtration system for a healthy Puget Sound, yet Conner Homes has shown disregard for their protection while building.  In the town of Edgewood, a washout from Conner’s construction site carried fill material into an adjacent sensitive natural area. Conner Homes’ overflow of imported fill material altered the channel of a stream, as well as inundating a wetland and its protective buffer. It took Conner Homes more than a year to attempt a mitigation of this event.

If, like us, you cherish the sanctity and benefits of the natural beauty of your neighborhood, it is not too late to act and protect yourselves from Conner Homes’ destructive behavior. We urge you to talk with your neighbors and contact your city council members, to demand caution and careful government oversight in all phases of Conner Homes’ projects in your neighborhood.

 

In solidarity,

Your friends at the Northwest Accountability Project

Read more about Conner’s arsenic-laced building site.

Read more about Conner’s clear-cutting of neighborhood woods.

 

Bob Wickers’ Far-Right Rolodex

Do you have what it takes to work at the Freedom Foundation? With his history of working for clients who fight against workers’ rights, Bob Wickers does.  A long-time political consultant to the Far-Right, he’s also the new “Vice President of Operations” at the Freedom Foundation.

We’ve written about the exodus of women from Freedom Foundation leadership, and now here’s a closer look into this newest staffer’s history – filled with controversial, dubious, and downright awful clients.  Evidently, just the kind of operative the Freedom Foundation was looking for.

 

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