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Public Employee Press

The war on working families

Right-wing aims to deliver the “mortal blow” to unions


As arch-conservative Republicans continue to take over state legislatures and governorships around the country, they count on the extremist State Policy Network as a powerful ally to fulfill their political agenda, which includes trampling on the rights of public employees.

The State Policy Network is at the center of a shadowy conservative network of more than 60 tax-exempt policy organizations and so-called think tanks.

Their agenda includes:

  • promoting school vouchers and the privatization and shrinking public services;
  • eradicating public employee pensions;
  • repealing pollution restrictions and environmental protections and
  • even, in some cases, abolishing the minimum wage.

A key goal of the State Policy Network, described in a 2016 fund-raising letter, is to “defund and defang” public employee unions. In the letter, SPN President and CEO Tracie Sharp underscores the group’s commitment to “deliver the mortal blow” to government unions and break their “stranglehold on our society.”

The State Policy Network has beachheads in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. The billionaire Koch brothers and other wealthy conservative individuals and interests contributed more than $80 million in 2011 to help the network.

Here in New York, two members of the billionaire Mercer family from Long Island are top officers in a related group called Reclaim New York, which seeks to shrink taxes for the wealthy and decimate public services.

Although not currently spending big bucks to push for a New York State constitutional convention, a representative of the group recently told Newsday, “We will look at this in November (after the vote). It’s something we definitely have an eye on . . .”

Across the country, the State Policy Network works with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to provide model legislation to state legislators designed to undercut the rights of public employees.

The network takes credit for the fact that more than half of U.S. states now have right-to-work laws that stifle collective bargaining, lower wages, and strip employees of their retirement security and benefits.

“This is no accident, but a wonderful result of our 50-state freedom network collaborating to bring winning strategies across state lines, building momentum for even more victories to come!” Sharp wrote.

Before the “fake news” era of today, SPN affiliates were already carrying out their own campaigns of disinformation and efforts to manipulate public opinion.

SPN and affiliates work with state-based think tanks to place articles in local media, encouraging politicians and reporters to use their buzzwords like “welfare reform,” “paycheck protection,” “school choice” and “empowerment of the poor.” Affiliates hire their own “investigative reporters” to work with conservative media outlets.

“In the end, by restricting workers’ rights, and even in some cases blocking voting rights of those who may support their ideological opponents, the SPN think tanks are helping right-wing politicians win elections that are more likely to support their agenda to benefit their corporate backers,” a Center for Media and Democracy 2013 report concluded.