Opposing views: Freedom Foundation vs. Northwest Accountability Project

 


After Lincoln County Commissioners Rob Coffman, Scott Hutsell and Mark Stedman recently passed a resolution to hold open meetings for negotiations with the county’s public employees union, there has been considerable debate about the issue. Now Spokane County Commissioners have adopted a similar resolution, and the arguments are heating up. Below are two recently published, opposing views on the subject.

By ERIN SHANNON

Washington Policy Center

Last December, Spokane County commissioners lifted the veil of secrecy that surrounds collective bargaining negotiations between the county and its unionized employees.

Commissioner Al French says the resolution “guarantees the public can witness where millions of their public dollars are being spent and how they are negotiated.” Commissioner Josh Kerns notes the new law “continues our commitment to make local government more transparent.”

Most taxpayers believe open, transparent government is good government. That’s why polls show overwhelming support for opening collective bargaining negotiations to the public. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously noted, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” when it comes to keeping special-interest corruption at bay.


Of course, not everyone wants taxpayers to know what their government is doing. The Northwest Accountability Project is sounding the alarm, hysterically warning Spokesman-Review readers that the county’s new resolution requiring openness is part of some “mysterious” and “deceptive” plot to “destroy well-paying public sector jobs in Spokane County.”

The only mystery is how allowing the public more access to their government could possibly be a bad thing.

Speaking of deceptive, consider NAP itself. In describing itself as “an organization dedicated to shining a light on special interests that attempt to bring hate and division to working families in the Northwest,” it hides the fact it is a union-funded group. As one NAP spokesperson admits, “We are labor-backed.” NAP was created by organized labor in 2015 to attack the Freedom Foundation, the nonprofit group in our state helping local governments become more open and accountable.

NAP has harassed Freedom Foundation employees by mailing flyers to their neighbors warning an “extremist” lives in their neighborhood. The flyers include photos and personal details about employees and their families. NAP has also targeted the businesses of those who support the Freedom Foundation’s open-government work.

The intimidation and bullying doesn’t stop with employees and supporters of the Freedom Foundation. In 2017 NAP threatened city and county officials around the state with “challenges” that “cost time and money” if they open secret collective bargaining negotiations to the public.

NAP’s deception isn’t limited to hiding the fact the organization is a union front. Its claim that Spokane County commissioners have “wasted countless hours and taxpayer dollars” by passing an open collective bargaining resolution that is “dead on arrival” is false.

After Lincoln County passed its open negotiations resolution, the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) rejected unions’ complaint alleging the resolution was an “unfair labor practice.” Soon after, Lincoln County successfully conducted its first collective bargaining negotiation with doors wide open.

Union negotiators demanded Lincoln County commissioners close the next negotiating session. The commissioners refused, so the union walked out. PERC then issued a head-scratching nondecision, declaring both the county and the union committed unfair labor practices by refusing to bargain. The ruling is a paradox; both sides are wrong and neither is right. It’s weird but not even close to a condemnation of Lincoln County’s open government resolution.

The bizarre nondecision is under appeal. Lincoln County commissioners say they will not back down and promise to defend their commitment to transparent government: “No matter how long it takes, we will fight to protect the rights of Lincoln County and its people to promote common-sense government transparency.”

So Spokane County’s openness resolution is in no way “dead on arrival,” although clearly NAP and its union backers desperately wish that were the case.

Why are they afraid of an open door policy for collective bargaining?

Open and transparent government allows every citizen, regardless of occupation or socio-economic status, to engage in policymaking in a meaningful way. It promotes civic engagement that empowers citizens. Open government is the great equalizer, removing the barriers to access that perpetuate an imbalance of influence tilted in favor of special interests with deep pockets. Being a policy insider shouldn’t be reserved for the moneyed.

NAP and unions say they advocate for the middle class and give working families a voice. If their true goal is empowering working class families, they would support open government policies like Spokane County’s new resolution, because that gives every citizen the same free access to the inner workings of their government.

Erin Shannon is director of the Center for Worker Rights at Washington Policy Center.

By PETER STARZYNSKI

Northwest Accountability Project

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.

Peter Starzynski is executive director of the Northwest Accountability Project, an organization dedicated to shining a light on special interests that attempt to bring hate and division to working families in the Northwest.

 

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