VOICES What are the real facts behind the Franken anti-union ads?


We have all seen it on TV dozens of times; and it sure looks sinister. Al Franken opposing what we all hold dear: the secret ballot regarding a proposed new labor law!

Well, it finally got my attention to the point that I thought it may be well to understand what this (proposed) new law is all about; who supports and who opposes it; and how and why it is being funded.

To start with, it is best to eliminate all the subjective discussion, and go straight to the language of the bill. Here it is (at least the controversial portion), The Employee Free Choice Act:

(6) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, whenever a petition shall have been filed by an employee or group of employees or any individual or labor organization acting in their behalf alleging that a majority of employees in a unit appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining wish to be represented by an individual or labor organization for such purposes, the Board shall investigate the petition. If the Board finds that a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for bargaining has signed valid authorizations designating the individual or labor organization specified in the petition as their bargaining representative and that no other individual or labor organization is currently certified or recognized as the exclusive representative of any of the employees in the unit, the Board shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or labor organization as the representative described in subsection (a).

In simple language what this means is that if a majority of the workers in a business or plant wish to have a union, they can sign a simple card called a “card check”, and they will forthwith be represented by a union, and/or an individual of their choosing. That’s it! Pure and simple.

However, here is the tricky part. If 30% or more (but not a majority) sign the card; or if there is illegal coercion in the card check vote, then there will be an election with a secret ballot! There will be an election. The ad misleads. The goal of the bill (which does have some bi-partisan support and is co-authored by Republican Peter King of New York), is to make it easier for employees to organize should they wish to. So who would oppose that?

Well, it is a little confusing — and that is likely by intention. First, there is the Coalition for A Democratic Working Place. Sounds like a worker-friendly organization, but it is far from that. It is supported and heavily funded by:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most powerful business lobbying organization; the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a group whose biggest member is Wal-Mart, the poster child for low wages; and the Associated Builders and Contractors, an association of anti-union contractors who fight against workers having unions to improve their wages and safety on the job. As a side note to the U.S. Chamber, in 2006, the Chamber spent a record $72 million on lobbying. VP for labor policy Randel Johnson told The New York Times, “We’ve targeted [The Employee Free Choice Act] as our No. 1 or No. 2 priority to defeat.”

But then, there are two other (apparently) worker-friendly organizations fighting the bill – but actually only one. There is the Employee Freedom Action Committee, and Minnesotans for Employee Freedom (founded in 2008). This it where is gets a bit murky. The Employee Freedom Action Committee is based in Washington DC; and of course the Minnesota organization is based here. What seems to be the case is the Washington group sets up local or state groups to act in a variety of specific elections across the country; and Al Franken has become one of their targets. This being the case, what do we know about the Washington organization? Well, it seems to be based in the office (or is the brainchild) of Richard Berman. So, who is Richard Berman? Let me try to clarify. Berman is a noted PR, lobbying, and election specialist with strong conservative ties. He operates, or manages these (among others) front organizations out of his office:

· The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) The CCF criticizes groups who advocate regulating restaurants, meat, dairy, food processors, and alcohol. The U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Union of Concerned Scientists(UCS), and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

· The American Beverage Institute (ABI) The ABI fights laws designed to regulate alcohol consumption, including the push to further raise existing blood-alcohol arrest thresholds

· The Employees Policy Institute (EPI) The EPI is opposed to raising the minimum wage, particularly in the labor-intensive restaurant industry. It argues that increasing the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses would help drive the poor and uneducated out of the job market.

He also manages the Center for Union Facts (CUF), an organization that on February 13, 2006, ran full-page ads in major print media outlets (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post) to blame trade unions for bankruptcies of American industries. The CUF website includes the largest online database of labor union reporting on budgets, political spending, and alleged labor criminal activity etc. It is virulently anti-union; but it is difficult to determine just who is funding this activity.

So, what is this all about? Well, a couple of things. First, the incredibly vast amounts of money lobbying groups have to influence public opinion. Secondly, the secretiveness, duplicity, and cover behind the real powers of these massive and often destructive lobbying campaigns. Thirdly, the travesties of having these third party groups operate and influence elections outside the constraints of normal election laws. And finally, something I guess we all know: don’t believe everything you see when it comes to political advertising.