Oregon union fight heats up – Statesman Journal
The Northwest Accountability Project has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service asking to have the Freedom Foundation’s 501(c)(3) status revoked. The complaint is intensifying the battle over public unions in Oregon and Washington, and was co-signed by 18 organizations including labor unions and left-leaning activist groups.
The Northwest Accountability Project was founded only weeks ago, and is intended to “shine a light on extremism” and “big money special interests,” according to Kevin Rudiger, its director.
“We feel like the Freedom Foundation is the key example of this kind of nationally funded right wing playbook,” he said.
The Northwest Accountability Project is working to counter the Freedom Foundation’s campaign to have home-care workers opt out of paying union dues.
In August, representatives from the Olympia, Washington-based Freedom Foundation came to the Oregon Capital Building with a bus of staff and supporters to hold a press conference. They said they had filed a federal lawsuit against Oregon’s largest public union, the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) Local 503, and were opening an Oregon branch of the organization. The suit is ongoing.
The Freedom Foundation has been met with ire from SEIU 503 and their supporters. The union represents many of Oregon’s state employees and all of its quasi-state employee home-care workers, who aid home-bound people with disabilities. Much of the increasingly heated rhetoric between the pro and anti-union sides has been delivered via newsletters, social media and in videos on their websites.
The 2014 Supreme Court case, Harris v. Quinn, is the basis for much of the Freedom Foundation’s work against unions. The decision said home-care workers can opt out of paying dues and still benefit from collective bargaining done by the union.
According to the Freedom Foundation, SEIU 503 has fought against recognizing the decision.
Scott Roberts, freedom in action director at the Freedom Foundation, said several hundred opt out forms have been submitted to SEIU 503 since the foundation began working in Oregon. Members have faced difficulty having those forms recognized, he said, because the union has placed limitations on how and when opt out forms can be filed.
Jill Bakken, communications director at SEIU 503, said if opt out forms were submitted outside specific time windows, they would likely not be recognized.
Shortly after their arrival in Oregon, the Freedom Foundation began a TV, radio and print advertising campaign, targeting SEIU 503 members. The ads said members can submit forms to the union and opt-out of paying dues.
The Northwest Accountability Project also published its own video, countering the Freedom Foundation’s positions against raising the minimum wage and paid sick leave.
The Freedom Foundation then released a video which said the Northwest Accountability Project is a “front group whose sole purpose is to manufacture lies and distort the record of the Freedom Foundation.” The video said the organizations efforts against Washington State’s SEIU 925 has caused the union’s membership to drop more than 50 percent and revenue to decline by at least $1.5 million.
The Northwest Accountability Project, which is funded in part by labor unions, decided filing an IRS complaint was the next step in the fight.
The complaint said the Freedom Foundation violates rules limiting lobbying and political campaign activity by 501(c)(3) nonprofits.
“The Freedom Foundation is operated for the private benefit of the Republican Party and other conservative and libertarian groups,” the complaint said.
Much of the evidence against the Freedom Foundation in the complaint is the foundation’s op-ed pieces and public statements made by staff, Rudiger said.
“This isn’t stuff that we’ve had to dig too deep on. They often put those things out there themselves,” he said. Rudiger, who is working full-time with the Northwest Accountability Project, was a research coordinator at SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Roberts said on Sunday that he had not seen the complaint and declined to comment on its claims.
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