The Freedom Foundation's Maxford Nelsen joins the Seattle Times politics podcast to talk about his organization's battle with public-sector unions.

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For the past several years, the Freedom Foundation, a conservative Olympia think tank, has waged a campaign to hamstring public-sector unions — largely by encouraging workers to withhold payments to the labor groups.

The aggressive effort has included lawsuits and door-to-door canvassing of members of unions like SEIU 775, the politically potent union representing home healthcare workers. That has drawn a legal and political backlash from labor organizations and their allies, who condemn the foundation as an anti-worker force funded by dark money.

It’s a feud with big political stakes for unions and Democratic politicians who count on their support — not to mention businesses and workers affected by labor-backed policies such as higher minimum wages and paid family leave.

On Episode 75 of The Overcast, the Seattle Times weekly politics podcast, the Freedom Foundation’s Maxford Nelsen joins hosts Jim Brunner and Dan Beekman to talk about that battle from the foundation’s perspective. (SEIU president David Rolf was a guest a few weeks back.)

The Freedom Foundation, previously known as the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, has been around since 1991, and used to push an array of conservative causes, but has in recent years, under CEO Tom McCabe, the nonprofit has narrowed in on an almost-exclusive focus on public-sector unions. (Followers of Washington politics will remember McCabe as the hard-charging, Democrat-bashing former head of the Building Industry Association of Washington.)

Nelsen says the free-speech case against mandatory union fees is simple: “We strongly believe as a matter of principle that public employees should not be forced to financially support any private organization, including a labor union – against their will.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for members of unions like SEIU to get out of paying so-called “agency fees” to union representation costs, if they don’t agree with the union’s politics (or if they just don’t want to pay). And the court is expected to further broaden that principle in an upcoming decision in the Janus v. AFCSME.

Also covered in the podcast:

  • What’s the argument for allowing employees represented by unions to avoid paying dues or fees when they benefit from union-negotiated wages and benefits?
  • Was SB 6199, a controversial bill signed into law by Inslee, a gift to SEIU, a big Democratic political benefactor?
  • What about data that show a link between declining unionization and lower wages for workers?
  • Who funds the Freedom Foundation, anyway?

This episode was recorded at the Seattle studios of public radio 88.5 FM KNKX.

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