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Group Known for Attacking Unions Tied to Far Right


Tuesday, June 8, 2021   

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mentioned a group in Idaho with a similar name to the Freedom Foundation. The two groups are unrelated. (12:41 p.m. PDT, June 8, 2021)

SEATTLE -- Known for its efforts to break up unions in the Northwest, the Freedom Foundation is in hot water for its ties to far-right campaigns.

Founded 30 years ago in Washington state, the conservative think tank has focused on fighting mask requirements and other health measures during the pandemic.

Peter Starzynski, executive director of Accountable Northwest, said the Freedom Foundation has pushed back against rules that helped slow the spread of COVID-19.

"They've planted seeds of doubt about health protections like mask usage, social distancing," Starzynski asserted.

The Freedom Foundation did not return a request for comment through email or by phone. In past statements, the group claimed mask rules violated people's First Amendment rights. The group also has sued Washington state over the capital-gains tax passed by the Legislature this session.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 Janus decision was seen as a victory for groups such as the Freedom Foundation because it meant public employees could opt out of paying dues, even as they continued to get representation from unions in bargaining. However, Washington state union membership remains among the highest in the nation.

Starzynski believes the organization has shifted its focus because of the continued popularity of unions.

"Unions are actually more popular than they've been in 60 years," Starzynski contended. "Union membership has increased in Washington state in the last few years, and people are just rejecting what these folks are throwing at them."

Union membership has increased in Washington since 2014, but dropped by about 1.5% between 2019 and 2020.

The Freedom Foundation has faced criticism in neighboring states.

It also has ties to Oregon's Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, a senior fellow for the group, who has been criminally charged for opening the state Capitol doors in Salem to protesters last December.

Recent videos show Nearman appearing to plot the event. Starzynski noted protesters attacked police once they were let in.

"This was just weeks before the failed insurrection in Washington, D.C., what was sort of a dark foreshadowing of that event," Starzynski recounted.

Nearman did not respond to a request for comment.

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