Freedom Foundation

California union official tells Freedom Foundation staff to “play” in “oncoming traffic”

At the Freedom Foundation, we’re used to varied responses to our outreach efforts. While many folks are extremely happy to hear from us, a handful are none too pleased. We know this comes with the territory. However, occasionally these responses cross the line. But we won’t be intimidated.

Jo Wattle, who is both a union officer for AFSCME 1684 and apparently an elected official for the Humboldt Bay Fire Board of Directors, told our outreach staff to “Go play in the street, preferably with oncoming traffic.” In other words, she asked our staff to commit suicide.

As a publicly elected official, I’m sure Ms. Wattle now wishes she had chosen her words more carefully. But what her words make clear is how much disdain union leaders have for the people they are supposed to represent. These union leaders do not want workers to know they have a choice.

And that is where the Freedom Foundation comes in. Our job is to help those that want to leave their union, not force everyone to cease membership. After all, that’s the beauty of the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision – public employees get to choose whether they continue being union members or not. If you like your union, you can keep your union.

Frankly, we’ve been insulted worse in the past and threatened more directly, such as the recent bullet that was shot through a window in our national headquarters. What this exchange highlights is the dangerous uptick in suicides nationwide during the COVID-19 related lockdowns.

Recently, the CDC announced a startling new trend as a result of the government-mandated lockdowns in response to the Coronavirus. According to the CDC, as many as 25% of people aged 18-24 had suicidal thoughts within the past month, and more than 52% had reported a depressive disorder. 24.7% had reported that they started abusing substances to cope with pandemic-related stress or emotions.

In the interest of fairness, Ms. Wattle did apologize to our outreach staff. However, this was after we let her know that we may make her comments public and send them directly to her union members, letting them know what kind of person their union dues pay for.

There’s never a right time to tell someone to “play in oncoming traffic” or kill themselves, but this is certainly the worst possible time to do it. The fact that AFSCME has officers who feel differently is shocking, and we should certainly expect better from our elected officials – apology or not.

A full transcript of the email exchange can be found here.

If you, or someone you know, is enduring emotional distress or is having suicidal thoughts, please urge them to contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

In line with her wishes, Ms. Wattle has been removed from our email contact database and will not receive any further outreach emails from the Freedom Foundation.