A recent full-page ad in many of the national daily newspapers pictures the newly deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and his youngest son, who replaced him as supreme ruler, Kim Jong-un. Both are deep in concentration, as if they are planning something grotesquely stupid or painful to perpetrate upon their people.
But the ad isn’t about the North Korean evil empire. It’s about the oppression supposedly felt by American workers in labor unions because they don’t have the right to vote to recertify the union every 3 years, something that the ad sponsors hope to rectify with the proposed Employee Rights Act, a piece of rightwing anti-union legislation percolating in Congress. The ad conflates the lack of real change in political leadership in North Korea with a so-called lack of union rights. The theme line of the ad is “It’s a new labor day.”
The ad talks neither about the rights of workers to organize, nor about the right to negotiate on even terms with management that unionization gains for workers. Nothing is mentioned about the right to make more money and better benefits, which exists only theoretically for most non-unionized nonprofessionals. The only right in which the ad is interested is the right to dismantle an existing union.
The ad sends us to a website called employeerightsact.com which details the anti-union provisions of the Employee Rights Act, all of which make it harder to organize and easier to decertify a union. The information is all presented in terms of benefits to the working stiff.
As with the American Petroleum Institute’s Vote4Energy website, employeerightsact.com makes it easy for those to act in favor of its proposed legislative change. The primary call to action in both cases is the same: write an elected official, in this case, your Congressional representative to tell her/him to support the proposed Employee Rights Act. Both websites also have a slew of information, most of it half-baked assertions and carefully-chiseled semi-facts.
But one thing separates these two websites: The American Petroleum Institute tells us what it is and who is supporting it.
By contrast, employeerightsact.com says that it is a project of the “Center for Union Facts” and sends us to its website.
The Center for Union Facts never really gets around to giving us a formal mission statement, but it seems hell-bent on doing anything to hurt unions. Some of its favorite hobby horses are the aforementioned anti-employee Employee Rights Act and an obsession with union corruption and political influence. It claims that it wants to get the word out to union employees about their rights, but the only right mentioned is the right to decertify.
And who runs Center for Union Facts, you might ask? Here’s all the website says: “The Center for Union Facts is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public.”
I tooled around the Internet looking for information about the organization and discovered that it is operated by a Washington, D.C.-based public relations agency called Berman & Company.
Here’s a direct quote about who funds Berman’s efforts from a Sourcewatch article:
United Press International noted that “the group’s spokesman refused to release the names of its donors or say where its funding came from.” Berman told Bloomberg reporter Kim Bowman that he had raised “about $2.5 million from companies, trade organizations and individuals, whom he declined to identify.” Sarah Longwell, a spokeswoman for the Center for Union Facts, echoed Berman’s groups standard claim for secrecy on who funds their front groups. “The reason we don’t disclose supporters is because unions have a long history of targeting anyone who opposes them, whether it be in a threatening way or by lodging campaigns against them,” she told Detroit Free Press. The paper reported that while Wal-Mart Stores denied funding the group it stated that “it has a relationship in which it exchanges union information with Berman, the group’s head.
As it turns out, Berman & Company runs a number of pro-business websites, none of which ever identifies which organizations and individuals are putting up the money. Here is a partial list of other Berman-run organizations, compiled by "Berman Exposed,” a website dedicated to revealing the deceptive tricks of the company and its founder, Rick Berman:
- The Center for Consumer Freedom, which attacks anyone who criticizes smoking, fast food or alcohol
- The Employment Policies Institute, which opposes increasing the minimum wage
- The American Beverage Institute, which fights laws designed to curb drunk driving
- First Jobs Institute, which promotes personal finance advice to young people from a pro-business perspective
We’ve gone through a bit of a maze, so let’s review: One or more companies and individuals pay Berman to create a “front” organization to advocate against regulations and laws that constrain business, including laws against drunk driving and smoking. I call the organization a front because it represents companies and individuals who don’t want their names associated with the work of the front. In the case of anti-union activity, Berman’s front creates another front. The front to the front then launches a misleading advertising campaign meant to draw people to the website. And through it all, we never know who it is who is really pulling the strings.