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Monday, Jan 12, 2009, 4:41 pm

Dr. Evil is BAAAACK!’s new anti-union campaign repeats “Secret Ballot&#82

By Art Levine

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In a series of ads in Politico, the Hill and other outlets, the anti-union front group led by Rick Berman, dubbed "Dr. Evil" by "60 Minutes," has unleashed a new ad campaign citing right-wing newspaper opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. The ads' main arguments, drawing on baseless propaganda spewed by anti-union organizations: the bill would take away the secret ballot and hurt the economy. For a corporate PR mastermind who previously spent his corporate donors' money bashing Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other do-gooder causes, it's not surprising he is distorting and ignoring the truth about this pro-worker legislation. In this case, the ads seem to be offered in response to a new SEIU campaign citing a New York Times editorial endorsing quick passage of the legislation as a boon to the economy. Here's an excerpt of the editorial written in support of Labor Secretary nominee Rep. Hilda Solis:

The main issue is whether the Obama administration will assert a forceful labor agenda in the face of certain protests from business that now — during a recession — is not the time to move forward.

The first and biggest test of Mr. Obama’s commitment to labor, and to Ms. Solis, will be his decision on whether or not to push the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009. Corporate America is determined to derail the bill, which would make it easier than it has been for workers to form unions by requiring that employers recognize a union if a majority of employees at a workplace sign cards indicating they wish to organize.

Ms. Solis voted for the bill when it passed the House in 2007. Senate Republicans prevented the bill from coming to a vote that same year. Mr. Obama voted in favor of bringing the bill to the Senate floor and supported it during the campaign.

The measure is vital legislation and should not be postponed. Even modest increases in the share of the unionized labor force push wages upward, because nonunion workplaces must keep up with unionized ones that collectively bargain for increases. By giving employees a bigger say in compensation issues, unions also help to establish corporate norms, the absence of which has contributed to unjustifiable disparities between executive pay and rank-and-file pay.

The argument against unions — that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands — is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad, so the recession by itself is not an excuse to avoid pushing the bill next year. The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would.

There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important. Without a united front, workers will have even less bargaining power in the recession than they had during the growth years of this decade, when they largely failed to get raises even as productivity and profits soared. If pay continues to lag, it will only prolong the downturn by inhibiting spending.

The secret ballot canard is easily disputed: the bill simply offers the employee the option of choosing a majority sign-up and retains the right to a secret ballot election if workers request it. But this bogus claim continues to be repeated as a Big Lie often enough that it's become accepted by mainstream media outlets, sometimes even by the Times itself. Here's a clear debunking of this all-too-common Big Lie:

Here are the facts to refute the opposition's fiction about the Employee Free Choice Act:

Fiction: The "legislation would end the rights of employees to secret ballot elections."
– Center for Union Facts

FACT: The Employee Free Choice Act does not abolish elections or "secret ballots." Under the proposed legislation, workers get to choose the union formation process—elections or majority sign-up. Under current law, the choice to recognize a union rests only with employers.

What the Employee Free Choice Act does prevent is an employer manipulating the flawed system to influence the election outcome. When faced with organizing campaigns: 25 percent of employers illegally fire pro-union workers; 51 percent of employers illegally threaten to close down worksites if the union prevails; and, 34 percent of employers coerce workers into opposing the union with bribes and favoritism.

Fiction: "Legal recognition of a union has traditionally been achieved through secret ballot elections…just like how a person votes for a senator or congressman."
– Center for Union Facts

FACT: Current union elections involving "secret ballots" bear no resemblance to political elections. Workers' free speech rights are squelched, employers practice various forms of economic coercion, and labor law allows employers to indefinitely delay recognition through drawn-out appeals. Says >University of Oregon political scientist Gordon Lafer: "The presence of secret ballots can't overcome the corrupt nature of NLRB elections."

Fiction: NLRB elections are "the only way to guarantee worker protection from coercion and intimidation."
– Coalition for a Democratic Workplace

FACT: Workers are more susceptible to coercion in NLRB elections than majority sign-up. Workers in NLRB elections are twice as likely (46 percent vs. 23 percent) as those in majority sign-up campaigns to report that management coerced them to oppose the union. Further, less than one in 20 workers (4.6 percent) who signed a card with a union organizer reported that the presence of the organizer made them feel pressured to sign the card.

Fiction: Majority sign-up is a "new approach" to forming unions.
– Center for Union Facts

FACT: Majority sign-up is a longstanding and common way to form unions. Since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, a quarter of the certifications issued by the National Labor Relations Board were based on non-election evidence of majority support.1 Since 2003, more than half a million Americans formed unions through majority sign-up. Even major corporations like AT&T allow their workers to join unions using majority sign-up. The Employee Free Choice Act is necessary today because employers have become increasingly bold in violating employees' rights and the law under the NLRB election process. When that process was developed, employers did not routinely engage in the massive legal and illegal violation of workers’ rights that is commonplace today.

In contrast, here are some uncomfortable truths about and Rick Berman you won't see on his latest front-group's website (via Amerian Rights at Work):

Role of Center for Union Facts in the Anti-Union Network

The Center is the latest public relations campaign and front group devised by “notorious D.C. lobbyist” and veteran spin doctor Richard “Rick” Berman with his firm, Berman and Company.

The Center for Union Facts is a front group focused on damaging the public image of unions, depressing workers’ rights, pushing legislation that would make it more difficult for workers to join unions, and furthering an anti-union business climate.

Berman earned his status as one of The Hill’s top lobbyists, along with Jack Abramoff, by working on behalf of unpopular clients like the tobacco, alcohol, and fast food industries. Berman’s campaigns have attempted to relax drunk driving laws, argue obesity is not a public health issue, prevent increases in the federal or state minimum wage, and attack advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

The New Mouthpiece for the Anti-Union Network

When Berman & Company officially launched the Center on Feb. 13, 2006, Berman kicked off its anti-union public relations campaign by orchestrating a ‘protest’ and media opportunity in front of the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, unveiling a website,, and buying pricey full-page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post,and The Wall Street Journal. Berman planned to spend $5 million3 on an initial launch of print, radio, television, and internet ads to spread the campaign’s anti-union messages to national and regional markets.

In May 2006, the Center produced a sensationalist television ad featuring actors posed as unhappy union members, and bought airtime for it nationally on CNN, FOX News, and NBC. Yet a number of stations refused to air the commercial, determining that the Center for Union Facts had crossed the line. As one station manager explained about its decision to reject the ad: "We believe that the spot is designed to be inflammatory, incendiary and panders to the lowest common denominator stereotypes about unions and union officials."...

Who is behind Rick Berman's front-group,

While the Center claims to represent the interests of workers, the organizations and individuals tied to the Center, in addition to Berman’s history as an industry lobbyist, reveal a hidden agenda to dismantle workers’ rights:

The anti-worker agenda behind the Center
* The Center’s website asserts that it is not “part of a political effort,” and just “about education,” But Berman has contradicted those claims in interviews with The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal, where he admitted to launching the Center to halt the use of card check as a method of forming unions, to generate support for the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would outlaw the currently voluntary card check process, and to “wage a campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act,” bipartisan legislation that would require employers to recognize unions formed by the card check process.

* The Center for Union Facts’ legislative agenda is strikingly similar to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s. The big business lobbying group both adamantly opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, and is in strong support of the Secret Ballot Protection Act. Berman formerly devised union avoidance strategies for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he still has strong ties to the Chamber through Randel Johnson, Vice President for Labor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Berman told The New York Times that he asked Chamber of Commerce officials at a state conference to recommend that businesses in their states donate to his anti-union campaign. Randel Johnson has repeatedly denied any Chamber funding of the Center, yet admitted “he had served as an adviser to the Center.”

*On its website, the Center claims it is “supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public.” Berman will only divulge that several companies and a foundation fund the Center, but will not release the names of his donors.

There's good reason Berman's corporate paymasters are so circumspect. They don't necessarily want to be publicly associated with what Greg Sargent of Talking Points Memo, citing USA Today, called Berman's in-your-face tactics:

The Berman method:

•In-your-face advertising. Berman puts ads everywhere from buses to the back page of U.S. News & World Report shouting that the other side is trying to scare eaters, drinkers and workers into submission.

The campaign to fight those who would blame the food industry for obesity cost about $1 million; this year's anti-union ads will cost close to $2 million. The ads are intentionally "edgy," he says, to get reporters to write about them and further spread the word.

•Dirt digging and dissemination. He uses investigative reporting techniques to expose the funding, alleged misstatements and connections of consumer groups, their experts and often trial lawyers. His staff combs through government and consumer group data seeking inconsistencies and says they are seldom disappointed.

Is that the person the public and leading journalists should rely on for accurate information about the Employee Free Choice Act? Will the smears and falsehoods be able to carry the day with the new Congress? Stay tuned for a bruising battle ahead.

Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic,, and numerous other publications.

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