Workers picket Freedom Foundation annual dinner in Bellevue

Several unions and worker organizations came together to picket the conservative think tank.

Hundreds of union members from throughout Puget Sound protested the Freedom Foundation’s annual fundraising dinner at the Hilton Bellevue on Sept. 28.

The Freedom Foundation is a conservative think tank that has the explicit goal of finding ways to bust unions, especially public-sector unions. The dinner also featured controversial conservative speaker Dinesh D’Souza. As cars drove in for the dinner they were met by the picketing union members who were organized by the group Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS).

OWLS steering committee member and transit worker Linda Averill said they were protesting the Freedom Foundation for positions which she characterized as being anti-worker, as well as D’Souza’s past tweets which have been called racist. D’Souza is an author who was convicted of campaign finance violations in 2014 and was later pardoned by President Donald Trump. In one tweet documented by The Hill, D’Souza called former President Barack Obama both “ghetto” and “boy.”

D’Souza also has mocked survivors of school shootings and Florida teenage shooting victim Trayvon Martin, supported the Obama birth certificate conspiracy, and argued that slaves were treated “pretty well” in a 1995 book, according to The Week.

“He is known for his racist tweets. He is very much part of the Trump bigotry,” Averill said.

The Freedom Foundation did not return a request for comment on this story. The foundation is also known for trying to break public-sector unions by spamming union members with emails encouraging them to quit their union, Averill said.

According to the Freedom Foundation’s website they are a nonprofit think and action tank based out of Washington and Oregon which was founded in 1991. The website says it is “working to reverse the stranglehold public-sector unions have on our government.” The foundation pushes for so-called “right to work” legislation which is focused on breaking up unions.

However, OWLS member David Griffith described right to work laws as “right to starve legislation.” He cited the large number of protesters and unions and labor organizations in the area which had signed on in support of the OWLS protest.

“Solidarity is extremely important,” Griffith said.

In addition to the hundreds of picketing union and community members, the organization had set up two large inflatables of a rat and a pig, which workers moved to simulate fighting using ropes. Friday’s protest was the third year OWLS had protested the dinner.

“We’re out here for the entire working class, women, immigrants, LGBT because the Freedom Foundation has a very long hit list,” Averill said.

Update: 10/23/18

Freedom Foundation director of labor policy Maxford Nelsen responded to this story with a statement where he disagreed with OWLS characterization of his organization’s work as union busting.

“Neither right-to-work laws nor the Janus v. AFSCME decision prevent anyone from joining a union if they wish. They simply give public employees the choice they should have always had,” Nelsen said in the statement.

“We take pride in daily helping workers understand and exercise their constitutional rights. The fact that union executives feel so threatened by this is a testament to the importance of the work we do, and we have no intention of slowing down.”

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