Freedom Foundation Union Outreach
Ashley Varner, left, vice president of communications and federal affairs for the Freedom Foundation, and policy associate Erin Volz in front of the 1199 SEIU building in Albany, New York. They were among think tank employees and volunteers taking part in an East Coast holiday tour informing government workers they can opt out of paying public-sector union dues.

(The Center Square) – Public policy think tank the Freedom Foundation engaged in some holiday flair with its latest effort to get the word out about the Supreme Court’s landmark Janus v. AFSCME decision from 2018 that ended compelled union dues for public employees.

Employees and volunteers of the Olympia, Washington-based organization were attired as Christmas elves – dubbed “Santa’s helpers” – and dispatched to locations on the Eastern Seaboard to spread the message that government workers can opt out of paying union dues.

The holiday-themed outreach ran from Nov. 29 through Dec. 7. It included stops in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. – home to the headquarters of AFSCME, SEIU, AFL-CIO, and the Teamsters – as well as Dover, Delaware; Trenton, New Jersey; Albany, New York; Montpelier, Vermont; Concord, New Hampshire; Providence, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts; and Hartford, Connecticut.

Ashley Varner is vice president of communications and federal affairs for the Freedom Foundation and a participant in the East Coast swing.

“[The] inaugural East Coast Santa canvassing tour was definitely a success,” she told The Center Square in an email. “We’ve had Santa canvassing teams up and down the West Coast for several years now, but this is the first time people in many of the states we visited on the East Coast had ever met someone from the Freedom Foundation.”

The tour achieved some milestones and practical results for an organization that has recently expanded into other states – Oregon, California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – since its 1991 founding as the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

“For the first time ever, Freedom Foundation literature was welcomed inside government buildings in Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire,” Varner said. “Every public employee we spoke with in Vermont had no idea they didn’t have to pay unions out of their paycheck and they were happy to hear they had a choice. Whereas every public employee we caught up with in New Hampshire laughed when we asked if they were union members and told us they’d stopped paying dues years ago!”

She went on to note, “We were received warmly when we approached public employees in Boston and Providence, RI – unsuspecting government workers wanted to hear that they could keep more of their own money, especially if they weren’t satisfied with their union representation.”

The tour may pay dividends in the long-term as well, she said.

“Since our visit, we’ve already started receiving opt outs from some of the states we visited, particularly Maryland and New Jersey,” Varner said.

Varner reported the spirit of the holiday season prevailed in noting there was not a single hostile incident during the tour.

“Of course, it’s hard to be mean to one of Santa’s helpers right before he visits your house,” she joked. “Several people wanted to be sure we had their names on the ‘good’ list! It was a fun week spreading good cheer of freedom from government union tyranny.”

The share of American workers who belong to a union – both public-sector and private – has fallen since 1983, when 20% of workers were union members.

That figure did rise slightly between 2019 and 2020, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual report released in January. Overall union membership ticked up to 10.8% in 2020, an increase of 0.5% from 2019.

Public-sector union rates also increased in that same time period to 34.8% from 33.6%, according to the BLS report.


Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.