On June 27, Freedom Foundation canvassers took to the streets of Sacramento to speak with public employees on the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees can no longer be compelled to pay union dues or fees.
While most of the workers were happy to hear from us, there was a faction that was not so happy that we were there. Operatives from SEIU 1000, which represents more than half of all state workers in California, approached one of our canvassing teams and began harassing them.
The exchange started amicably, with our canvassers exchanging pleasantries and engaging in a spirited debate about the necessity of union membership for some employees, while also acknowledging some may prefer to retain their union membership for one reason or another.
Our canvassers explained that the Janus decision was not about destroying unions; it was about the First Amendment rights of public employees who may not agree with the way that unions spend their dues dollars.
This explanation did not satisfy the SEIU representatives, who claimed members leaving their union would weaken their ability to represent and bargain for their members.
Clearly lost on them was the fact that if their members were leaving en masse, the problem was most likely with the unions’ ability to represent their interests in the first place.
Once this line of logic failed, SEIU moved on to another common tactic. They made it about race — more specifically, our canvassers’ race.
One of the three representatives crowding around our canvassing team said, “Unions’ have historically won gains for the working class. Where unions, go salaries rise. This is most true for women — especially women of color”.
They continued to say, “Groups that you’re working for are funded entirely by two or three old white men. Are those the kind of people you want to work for?”
Our canvassers maintained their calm demeanor but were clearly offended by this statement. All five of the canvassers currently working in the Sacramento area are young women of color who are as proud to work with us as we are to have them on our team.
One canvasser, whose name we have shortened to C.L to preserve her privacy, observed, “I don’t believe it’s fair to reduce people to statistics … You really shouldn’t be playing the race card here.”
After a short back and forth with the union representatives, at which point all five of our canvassers were involved, they retreated back to their building.
Their gambit had failed, and their usual talking points had fallen on deaf ears. We continued to canvass at that building until the “Janiversary” event was over without so much as a peep from SEIU.
We’re proud to work with such bright young women who are dedicated to the cause of informing workers about their constitutional rights under the Janus decision.
Freedom of speech is imperative in any functional democratic nation, and it’s clear our canvassers were heard loud and clear.