Q & A with Tom McCabe, Freedom Foundation CEO

By Jim Pasero — 

Originally published: Oregon Transformation Newsletter

The Freedom Foundation operates in California, Washington and Oregon. Can you give us an update on your work following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision last June? (In Janus, the court said that forcing public union members to pay “agency fees” violated their First Amendment rights.) How many public employee members have left the unions in Oregon and on the West Coast since the decision?

Since the ruling, we’ve been running a full-scale campaign to inform all government employees on the West Coast. This includes everything from mailers, emails, TV commercials, billboards and social media campaigns to visiting their homes and offices to tell them that they can leave.

So far, more than 41,000 people have opted out of their union with our assistance. Here in Oregon, SEIU 503’s membership has dropped by more than 20 percent since Janus, and some government agencies, such as the Department of Revenue, have suffered almost 50 percent in membership losses.

Unions are the Titanic and Janus was the iceberg. Except, instead of water gushing in, their members are gushing out. 

There is a bill – HB2643 – pending before the Oregon Legislature that would empower the government to pay the union dues directly for those members who have “opted out” of the public employee unions and would, in addition, give those “opting out” members a pay cut. What is your reaction to this bill? Is it legal, constitutional? Does it have any chance of passing the Oregon legislature this session?

Government unions in Oregon are bleeding members and revenue since the Janus decision as a direct result of the Freedom Foundation’s efforts. This legislation is the only way they can continue to extract money from public employees and, by extension, the taxpayer. 

Governor Kate Brown and Democrat leaders of the Oregon Legislature live in a liberal alternative universe where they rubber stamp anything the unions demand, even an unconstitutional measure like HB 2643.

When HB 2643 passes, the Freedom Foundation’s legal team will immediately sue in federal court to have the measure overturned.

In March 2018, in anticipation of the Janus decision, you hired 80 canvassers to make summer in-home visits to public employee union members. In the Bloomberg News, the Freedom Foundation’s Maxford Nelsen described the reason for the canvassers and the efforts: “Their employer isn’t going to tell them, and the union isn’t going to tell them, so it falls to organizations like the Freedom Foundation to take up that mantle and make sure that public employees are informed of their constitutional rights.”

How extensive was the training? How effective were the canvassers in their visits? What was the typical reception at the door like? 

We spend about a week training our canvassers to inform government employees about their rights under Janus and answer basic questions they might be asked. Beyond that, they’re instructed to be courteous and respect the privacy of those they’re contacting. 

Contrary to what you hear from the other side, the workers we interact with are overwhelmingly receptive to our message. And why shouldn’t they be?

We’re offering them a chance to keep their own money, make their own choices and force a union that sees them as nothing but a dollar sign to be more responsive to their needs. What’s not to like? 

When we get to have a conversation with a union member at home, we have a 55 percent success rate in getting them out of the union. 

The Northwest Accountability Project (NWAP), an organization that describes itself as “dedicated to shining a light on right-wing extremism,” recently paid for a half-page ad in local newspapers.

The ad stated that since Tom McCabe took over at the Freedom Foundation:

  • Union membership was at record highs for public-sector unions in the Northwest.
  • $1.4 million was spent on legal defense bills because of their nefarious activities.
  • California, Washington and Oregon have passed the most progressive, pro-worker agendas of any region in the nation.

Are any of the statements in this ad true?

NWAP spends a lot of money spreading lies, but it’s what they don’t advertise that really tells the story.

The group was formed and continues to be funded by government employee unions for the sole purpose of smearing the Freedom Foundation – an organization they hate because we are so effective.

In response to their claims: 

  • Union membership in the Northwest is declining precipitously.
  • The Freedom Foundation did spend money to fight a lawsuit brought against us by the labor unions. Unions claimed we had “tortuously interfered in their business expectancy.” They asked a judge to force us to pay them $30 million in lost dues. The Freedom Foundation won this lawsuit. Currently, we have 55 ongoing lawsuits against the unions, costing the unions as least $10 million per year in legal fees.
  • Oregon, Washington and California have passed the most progressive “pro-union,” anti-worker, anti-freedom legislation in the nation.

This past summer, in response to the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said this about the ruling and your organization’s work:

“When members find out who’s pulling the strings, they get pissed, because they don’t want outsiders to hurt their freedom to earn a better life. We are confident that when members start getting harassed by these outside groups, they’ll be ready – not only to reject their assault but to become more active in their union.”

Bloomberg News had a different take onJanus:

“The big picture for organized labor is bleak following the high court’s ruling. In states with right-to-work laws, where it’s illegal to require workers to fund unions that are required to represent them, employees are already only half as likely to have union representation – or less. Such laws, and the Supreme Court opinion, have significant electoral consequences.”

Whose take is right about the future of the unions’ political influence?  

We don’t have to speculate about that. Just look at the 2016 presidential election.

All the commentators, pundits and pollsters spent months afterward trying to explain how President Trump managed to confound all the projections, but the answer was very simple. For the most part, both he and Hilary Clinton carried the states they were expected to carry. But the glaring exceptions to that rule were Wisconsin and Michigan – both of which had enacted right-to-work protections since the previous election cycle.

When the unions in those states were deprived of millions of dollars they had always been able to simply seize from government workers, Democrats had less to spend on their Election Day ground game. And it made a difference.

Janus made right-to-work protections the law of the land all over the country. The question now is, what other states that the liberals have always taken for granted will suddenly be in play?

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown beat Knute Buehler by more than 6 percentage points this November. Buehler spent a record $19 million for a Republican candidate running for governor. But the public employees spent more than $40 million on behalf of Gov. Brown. Was the Janus decision just too late in the electoral cycle to have much impact on the political spending in this year’s Oregon gubernatorial contest? Will political spending in Oregon be more balanced in the future?

To put it simply, yes. 

Government unions in Oregon spent years preparing for Janus. They had been cutting their operational budgets to ensure they had big money to spend this past election cycle. They now expect a payback from the politicians they helped elect in the form of “Janus damage control.”

In response, our legal team intends to make sure the unions in Oregon comply with the full scope of the decision. 

Just last year we filed a lawsuit in Oregon,Chambers v. AFSCME, that demands unions reimburse everybody who opted out of their union before Janus. Union bosses violated the rights of these employees because they were still charging so-called agency fees which were found unconstitutional under Janus. We expect this to be in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and could remove tens of millions from the unions’ coffers and put it back in the pockets of public employees. 

Labor 411 (an organization that produces directories of union-made products) gave out their 2018 Turkeys of the Year Awards. The Freedom Foundation ranked fourth, behind President Trump and the U.S. Supreme Court, but ahead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Scott Walker and Amazon. That’s quite an accomplishment for a Northwest-based nonprofit. 

Why do the public employee unions representing government workers continue to resort to this kind of juvenile vitriol and bullying? Is the verbal and physical harassment to you, your family and your organization better or worse since Janus?

Worse, but that’s a reflection of their desperation, and we wear it like a badge of honor.  The Freedom Foundation is the only organization in the nation that takes on the unions in the courtroom and in the streets. And as a result, we’re the only organization relentlessly attacked by the unions – even earning national ranking as the #4 villain.

For decades, the entire liberal establishment – unions, the bureaucracy, the media, academia, the entertainment industry and leftist politicians – has been fueled to a huge extent by money diverted by force from public employees.

Janus has the potential to end all that, but it won’t happen if we just sit back and assume the law will be respected and enforced.  

The other side has too much at stake to go down without a fight. The Freedom Foundation exists to win the fight.