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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