Union reps caught on tape trashing Freedom Foundation at L&I employee orientation

Union reps caught on tape trashing Freedom Foundation at L&I employee orientation

Union reps caught on tape trashing Freedom Foundation at L&I employee orientation

Video and audio recording recently obtained by the Freedom Foundation exposes paid union organizers employed by the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) attacking the Freedom Foundation by name and at length as part of a virtual new employee orientation program conducted by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

In the recording, full-time WFSE organizer Matthew Reiter decries the Freedom Foundation as an example of the “dark forces aligned against us” in his pitch to get the new state workers to sign up for WFSE membership and authorize the automatic seizure of 1.5 percent of their wages for the union.

The video/audio footage was provided to the Freedom Foundation in several segments, with brief gaps in between. They have been combined chronologically below and edited to protect the identity of the source and other participants in the virtual orientation.

In 2018 — just months before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory dues requirements for public employees as unconstitutional in Janus v. AFSCME— the Democrat-controlled Washington State Legislature passed SB 6229, which required all government employers in the state to permit union organizers to have at least 30 minutes with new hires during the employees’ orientation process.

At the time, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), the bill’s sponsor and self-described “union firefighter,” argued the orientations would merely cover employees’ rights and workplace policies, such as the “process for disciplinary action,” to the benefit of both employees and their government employers.

However, the Freedom Foundation opposed the legislation, explaining that such captive-audience meetings were increasingly part of unions’ playbook for coercing or deceiving public employees into signing up for union membership. Major government unions like the National Education Association, for example, openly advocated for such meetings as a way to boost recruitment after Janus. And during committee hearings on SB 6229, even union lobbyists admitted the legislation would aid them in getting employees to sign up for union membership.

Since the law’s passage, these captive-audience union presentations have typically occurred in person, though they’ve generally been conducted virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, as was the case with the L&I orientation.

The recording doesn’t capture Reiter’s full remarks, but most of what was recorded and intelligible consisted of outright lies about the Freedom Foundation’s mission and work in a transparent attempt to portray the organization as a nefarious bogeyman, justifying WFSE’s existence and the necessity of union membership.

Reiter repeatedly and egregiously misrepresented the Freedom Foundation’s positions on various matters of concern to state workers in order to emphasize the importance of “preventing the Freedom Foundation from influencing state policy.” Among other things, he falsely and without substantiation claimed the Freedom Foundation,

  • attempted to “defund the contract” negotiated between WFSE and the state of Washington and approved during the 2021 legislative session;
  • wants to “remove spouses from healthcare insurance for state employees”;
  • and even “tried to privatize this agency [L&I] a couple legislative sessions ago and outsource all of your jobs.”

According to Reiter, the Freedom Foundation wishes to return to “the Wild West,” where “the free market reigns” because — as “a union, basically, of millionaires… or billionaires, really” — it wants to allow its wealthy backers to take over the provision of public employee benefits and, in so doing, increase profits.

Regarding state employees’ healthcare, for instance, Reiter stated that, “Because it is such a robust healthcare plan, there’s a lot of money in there if they can privatize it.”

One of the many problems with Reiter’s reasoning is that, while paid for with tax dollars, private companies — such as Kaiser Permanente and Regence Blue Shield — already manage public employees’ health benefits.

And when it comes to money, there’s simply no comparison. WFSE’s annual revenue is about four times that of the Freedom Foundation. Combined, just eight of the prominent government unions in Washington, including WFSE, have annual revenue topping $160 million, more than 24 times that of the Freedom Foundation.

Several times, even Reiter acknowledges that his explanation of the Freedom Foundation’s allegedly greed-driven goals doesn’t even make sense to him. At one point, he describes “the billionaire agenda” as “cruel and unnecessary” and asks rhetorically, “If you had a billion dollars, why do you care if unions are stronger? Like—what is—that would be one of the last things I would care about if I was a billionaire.”

Reiter’s comments were accompanied by a slide in his PowerPoint presentation listing 10 items that purportedly constitute the Freedom Foundation’s “Wish List for State Employees.” While Reiter claimed the list was, “taken straight from their [the Freedom Foundation’s] website,” the graphic was actually created by the Northwest Accountability Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit based in Portland which is funded almost entirely by labor unions, including WFSE, and exists purely to attack and spread misinformation about Freedom Foundation staff and supporters.

But WFSE’s narrative doesn’t need to be correct or reasonable; it just needs to paint the picture of the union as all that stands between state employees and exploitation at the hands of villainous robber-barons.

In Reiter’s words, “The unions are the only backstop to preventing, like, total takeover of, you know, our lives, basically. It truly is, like, an us-versus-them situation.”

At this juncture, Reiter’s anti-Freedom Foundation rant predictably pivoted to a pitch for employees to join WFSE. “Signing a [membership] card really is the basis of participation if you really want a strong, robust, fighting union,” he told his audience.

After all, as Reiter explained, “No workforce has more at stake in decisions made by elected leaders.” As an added bonus, he continued, signing a card unlocks access to “special, member-only benefits.”

And signing up could hardly be easier. Just text the union’s number and “Boom, you become a member,” Reiter explained.

Nowhere during the recording did Reiter explain that joining the union was optional, that employees had a constitutional right to decline membership and dues payment, or that cancelling dues deductions could only be accomplished in writing during an arbitrary, 15-day annual window determined by the union.

Reiter and another WFSE organizer named Margarett concluded by generally attempting to pit employees against L&I management, telling the new employees that, “You are at the same level as management,” and claiming the employer will attempt to “gaslight” employees.

After such a screed, it is supremely ironic that the L&I HR employee conducting the new employee orientation resumed the program by thanking the union organizers for their “time and all this information” about the “juicy goodness that is our collective bargaining agreement.” She then proceeded to actually walk employees through the agreement’s terms, describing the union only in positive terms along the way.

The episode adds to the growing pile of evidence that union participation in government new employee orientation programs is nothing more than an opportunity for a wealthy and politically influential private, special interest group to pitch membership in captive-audience settings with the state’s imprimatur and at taxpayer expense.

And the fact that the state permits unions to use such opportunities to lob false accusations at the Freedom Foundation in an attempt to prevent it from “influencing state policy” is both troubling and potentially raises constitutional concerns.

Director of Research and Government Affairs
As the Freedom Foundation’s Director of Research and Government Affairs, Maxford Nelsen leads the team working to advance the Freedom Foundation’s mission through strategic research, public policy advocacy, and labor relations. Max regularly testifies on labor issues before legislative bodies and his research has formed the basis of several briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. Max’s work has been published in local newspapers around the country and in national outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, National Review, and the American Spectator. His work on labor policy issues has been featured in media outlets like the New York Times, Fox News, and PBS News Hour. He is a frequent guest on local radio stations like 770 KTTH and 570 KVI. From 2019-21, Max was a presidential appointee to the Federal Service Impasses Panel within the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which resolves contract negotiation disputes between federal agencies and labor unions. Prior to joining the Freedom Foundation in 2013, Max worked for WashingtonVotes.org and the Washington Policy Center and interned with the Heritage Foundation. Max holds a labor relations certificate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated magna cum laude from Whitworth University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. A Washington native, he lives in Olympia with his wife and sons.