SB County Teamsters Battle Conservative Think Tank's Local Effort To Weaken Gov't Employee Unions

Feb 24, 2019

Local Teamsters Union officials are engaged in a public relations battle with the the group, the Freedom Foundation, which is encouraging union members to opt out of paying union dues.
Credit portside.org

In San Bernardino County, an organization called the Freedom Foundation is alleging that the local Teamsters Union is obstructing their efforts to inform union members of their right to opt out of their union.  KVCR's Benjamin Purper reports.

Last year, the Supreme Court issued a decision called Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees which ruled that workers in public sector unions can opt out of paying union dues.

The Freedom Foundation says it exists to educate workers about that right to opt out – and in San Bernardino County, that’s led to tensions with the local Teamsters union.

Coleman: “The Supreme Court made it very clear in Janus v. AFCSME that this is a first Amendment issue.”

That’s Sam Coleman with the Freedom Foundation. They filed a public records request with San Bernardino County and found that Teamsters president Kathleen Brennan had sent an email from her county email to her Teamsters email about the creation of a committee to counter the Foundation’s efforts.

Coleman: “It started back in October, we put out a story on our website saying that we were going to be ratcheting up canvassing, government office buildings, in Southern California and across California. And six days later, this committee according to documents that we got from the county, was created.”

I asked Brennan if such a committee existed.

Brennan: “No, that's not true. That was a homework assignment.

Brennan says the committee was just an exercise she had done for a class she was taking, and happened to send to her county email. According to Brennan, the union didn’t create an anti-Freedom Foundation committee using union funds.

Brennan: “Absolutely not. We don't need to.”

Brennan says that so far, less than 2% of Teamsters union employees have actually opted out – but that the Freedom Foundation would like to see that number increased.

Brennan: “What their whole goal is is to get everybody to opt out, so that the unions will cease to exist. Cause I can tell you this, you walk into McDonalds and say you want a Big Mac and walk out without paying for it, how long is the McDonalds going to last if people are allowed to do that, right?”

Martha West, a professor of law at UC Davis, says the Teamsters would be within their rights to form a committee to counter the Freedom Foundation’s efforts.

West: “Keeping members in the union is part of union organizing.”

For now, neither group is backing down. Samuel Coleman with the Freedom Foundation says they’ll continue to canvas in front of government buildings – and the Teamsters union says they’ll keep fighting to keep members from opting out.