Leadership Institute Misrepresents Right-Wing Attack On Unions As Win For The Little Guy

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix (Image from Leadership Institute Facebook Live broadcast, August 1, 2018)

The Leadership Institute’s monthly Wednesday Wake-Up Club breakfast welcomed National Right to Work Committee’s Mark Mix this morning to celebrate the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case, the latest in the decades-long attack on labor unions funded by right-wing foundations, corporate donors and the Koch brothers’ political networks.

The Leadership Institute is a conservative activist training program that has cultivated many well-known right-wing activists, including Mix himself, who was introduced at the breakfast by his daughter Kelsey, a Leadership Institute staffer. Leadership Institute founder and leader Morton Blackwell is also a longtime board member of the National Right To Work Committee.

Mix recounted the NRTWC’s long series of legal attacks on unions, which included the Abood case decided by the Supreme Court in 1977—the ruling just overturned in Janus. In Abood, the court ruled that the state could allow a public employee union to collect “agency fees” from non-union members to pay for the union’s cost of bargaining and representation. But the court also ruled that the union could not compel people to pay for union political activities they disagreed with, which is why Mix said the court “split the baby” in that case.

But that wasn’t enough for NRTWC or its funders. They’ve been pushing the court to do what the conservative majority has just done, which is to overturn all state and local laws requiring public-sector employees to pay unions a fee for the bargaining and representation from which they benefit—and that the unions are required by law to provide to all employees in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether or not those employees belong to the union.

An anti-union bonus in the Janus decision—which NRTWC asked for but Mix said he didn’t expect the court would give them—is a new requirement that workers be required to opt in to, rather than opt out of, paying union fees. After the Janus ruling, People For the American Way Foundation’s Paul Gordon explained how Janus is part of the larger project of conservatives on the Supreme Court to misuse the First Amendment to further empower the powerful while weakening protections for everyday people.

Although anti-union forces are ecstatic that the Supreme Court’s right-wing justices gave them everything they asked for in Janus, Mix says the fight isn’t over. Even with successful right-wing attacks on worker’s collective bargaining rights in such states as Wisconsin, not every state has passed the kind of so-called right-to-work laws that would apply Janus-type rules to private-sector workers and unions. And Mix talked about ongoing litigation that he believes will require, under new rules just imposed by the Supreme Court in Janus, unions to return millions of dollars in fees—as much as $100 million in just one California case.

At the Leadership Institute, Mix described this right-wing victory in Janus as a “beautiful story” that “warms our hearts”—the story of one courageous worker battling all the way to the highest court in the land to protect his freedom. (In reality, plaintiff Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, was recruited by the right-wing forces behind the case after the state’s billionaire governor, Bruce Rauner, was denied standing in the original iteration of the case. Now that the case has concluded, Mark Janus has quit his government job to take a position with the Illinois Policy Institute, whose Liberty Justice Center partnered with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund to argue the case.)

Blackwell praised NRTWC as the little guy in a David-and-Goliath battle with big unions. But in truth, Janus is the culmination of a long, well-funded strategic campaign by deep-pocketed right-wing ideologues to “defund the left” by diminishing the power of unions and their ability to support progressive causes and candidates.

The Center for Media and Democracy has studied the NRTWC and its funding. CMD reported that in 2012, NRTWC and its affiliated National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Institute for Labor Relations Research had combined budgets of more than $25 million, making them a “powerful instrument of the corporate and ideological interests that want to keep wages low and silence the voice of organized labor in the political arena.” Mix said today that after the Supreme Court decided to hear Janus, his group was given access to an internal document from a Democratic political group indicating that 25 to 30 percent of its income came from organized labor.

CMD’s Mary Bottari reported last year on the huge sums that have been poured into anti-union projects by the massive right-wing Bradley Foundation, whose recipients include NRTWC allies like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and State Policy Network (of which NRTWC is an associate member), as well as efforts to gain “unified control” in states—Republican control of governorships, legislatures, and supreme courts—in order to pass anti-union “reform” and other conservative policies. The Center for Responsive Politics noted in 2014 that NRTWC’s PAC had given 100 percent of its contributions to Republicans, and had been accused of campaign finance law violations.

As we’ve said, they’ve been at this a long time; in 1984, NRTWC spent $100,000 to hire private detectives to infiltrate the AFL-CIO, National Education Association, and the Mondale for President Committee.