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This past spring mailers were sent to San Francisco city employees, including educators, urging them to opt out of their union dues.

As reported by news site 48 Hills, the mailers were from Opt Out Today, a website run by the Washington-based Freedom Foundation. The foundation is part of a national network of conservative groups funded by anti-labor (and in some cases, anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice) organizations. It has a long record of working against public education in multiple states, taking positions against school funding, salary increases for educators, and providing technology and training for students.

This is not an isolated effort. Similar actions have occurred throughout the state over the past year, in campaigns targeting your mailboxes, phones and social media.

Google “join teachers union California” and one of the top results (along with Opt Out Today) is, with the headline “How to Opt Out of the California Teachers Association.” is supported by organizations including the Association of American Educators (AAE) Foundation. Research by the Center for Media and Democracy shows AAE is partially funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to help “defund teachers unions and achieve real education reform.” The center reported in 2017: “Bradley is so anxious to silence the organized voice of public school teachers, it has pumped $1.77 million into a substitute, the Association of American Educators Foundation.”

Attack on your rights

Why are such concerted efforts being made now to convince you and other public sector workers to opt out of unions? Who are the groups behind the actions, and what do they want?

It helps to understand that opposition to organized labor has existed — well, since labor started organizing workers. Labor leaders then and now have acted to give voice to workers, to improve working conditions, to ensure fair wages, and to allow workers and their families to live with dignity.

CTA fights for students and public education as well as educators.

“Since CTA’s founding in 1863, we have been fighting for equal access, justice and resources for all California’s students, teachers and classrooms,” says CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “All students deserve a quality education, and all educators should have the resources they need to provide it.”

With the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME allowing public sector workers to stop paying union agency fees (but maintain collective bargaining representation alongside dues-paying colleagues), well-funded conservative groups have sought to capitalize on the shrinking middle class to weaken unions, including educator unions.

The goal: to silence your voice in the classroom and suppress your rights on the job.

These groups want to break up labor’s influence to gain policies and laws more favorable to their interests — often done in the name of “reform.” Unfortunately, what is favorable to billionaires — such as limited government and fewer restrictions on businesses — is often at odds with the needs of the working class, resulting in lower wages and fewer protections for workers.

For example, privatizing education offers enormous profits for a few, while hurting many students who are left out and left behind. Until CTA members worked to change state laws, privately managed charter school companies were allowed to cherry-pick students, and many continue to operate without full transparency.

The groups work fast. Within hours of the ruling in Janus — a case bankrolled by billionaires that overturned a unanimous 1977 Supreme Court ruling — the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy flooded public school teachers’ inboxes and mailboxes nationwide with information on how to leave their unions.

And they’re not above exploiting a pandemic. The Freedom Foundation has been taking advantage of workers during this economically and emotionally vulnerable time by disseminating misleading and false information.

Misleading names

Many of the groups behind anti-labor and anti-public education efforts have pro-educator names such as Choice for Teachers and the California Teacher Empowerment Network. They label themselves as think tanks and operate as nonprofits, but the reality is that they are fronts for public education privatizers who want to weaken unions.

According to a 2018 Bloomberg story, tax filings reveal a who’s who of wealthy conservative groups behind the Freedom Foundation, including:

  • The Sarah Scaife Foundation, backed by the estate of right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.
  • Donors Trust, which has received millions of dollars from a charity backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
  • The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, backed by the family of former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
  • The State Policy Network, which has received funding from Donors Trust and is chaired by a vice president of the Bradley Foundation.

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