It’s an important signal that unions are working when the rich and powerful spend billions trying to silence them.
A new web tool claiming to allow public employees to opt out of paying membership fees with one click is the latest big-dollar attempt by anti-labor special interests to muzzle working people and starve unions of their power.
"Our enemies haven't found a way to beat us yet, but that isn't stopping them from trying," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "That they're so clearly threatened by any organization which works to balance power between working people and management should only strengthen our resolve to keep fighting."
The same anti-union groups behind the new web tool were buoyed by the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus v. AFSCME decision in 2018. They predicted that the landmark ruling, which allows public sector workers to benefit from union representation without having to pay for it, would finally starve unions into bankruptcy.
Janus was a dangerous decision, but reports in the year following the ruling show that it has not actually spelled doom for public sector labor unions. Earlier this year, for example, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees announced that, from March 2018 to March 2019, it had retained 94% of all represented workers and actually gained more than 9,000 dues-paying members. A Politico review in May of nine other unions representing public employees found similar results.
Now that the predicted post-Janus exodus from public sector unions has failed to materialize, labor's enemies have turned to spending their money on technology to do the job for them. It's been happening in New York State, where an organization called Edunity recently launched a web tool targeting members of the state's public employee unions.
Edunity's website asserts that it is "an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan effort to educate public employees about their rights." But its ties to the same antiunion groups that have tried to kneecap labor for years go deep.
A news item on the website of the anti-labor State Policy Network links Edunity to a partnership of SPN affiliates led by the San Francisco-based Lincoln Group.
SPN is a national conservative and libertarian think-tank conglomerate backed by a host of well-known Fortune 100 companies. It also receives support from the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Koch family-funded Americans for Prosperity, among others. The Chicago Sun-Times noted that another SPN-affiliate, the Illinois Policy Institute, not only supplied the cash behind the Janus lawsuit, it hired plaintiff Mark Janus after the decision was handed down.
From the start, the Edunity web tool requires would-be users first to trust the organization with their names, phone numbers and email addresses "to verify your identity." Users' privacy is important to Edunity, the website states, but it's unclear whether, or how, the organization might use that contact information once it has it.
The main basis underlying Edunity's argument for leaving a union is that members could save around $700 annually by opting out. Further down the web page is where Edunity admits that workers who freeload, rather than pay their fair share, cut off their access to union representation and participation.
Ongoing education remains among the IBEW's best weapons in its fight against the effects of the Janus decision.
"Most of our public employee members understand that the IBEW is so much more than the dues-collecting organization our enemies make us out to be," said Paul O'Connor, Government Employees Director. "We can keep winning our fights against every anti-union misinformation campaign with fact-based education and member-to-member outreach."
Just ask the members of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245, who reported recently that less than 1% of the nearly 2,400 public employees it represents have stopped paying membership fees since the Janus decision. And in Newark, N.J., Local 1158, where most of the members are public employees, a concerted outreach campaign has helped the local boost its membership numbers.
The IBEW, meanwhile, continues its own embrace of technology that helps organize workers and workplaces. Since it was launched in March, WePowerAmerica.org has helped connect thousands of electrical workers with quality union construction jobs, while the recently refreshed IBEWYes.com provides tools to help government, professional and industrial workplaces organize. Plus, the smartphone-optimized Action Builder web tool has helped make face-to-face organizing run more smoothly and efficiently.
"Our enemies will never stop looking for ways to divide and destroy us, so they need to know that we will never stop fighting back," Stephenson said. "These outside groups want to divide workers, to turn us against one another instead of joining together to fight for better wages, benefits and treatment on the job.
"If they weren't worried that unions were helping tip the balance of power back toward workers, they wouldn't be spending billions to shut us up," Stephenson said.