Friday, February 17, 2006

...and the response.

Who I work for, apparently.

The guy on the right is Bruce Raynor, the General President of Unite Here.

It ought to be patently obvious to anyone that his quote was taken out of context (the presence of Kim Jong Il pretty much destroys the pretense of credibility). But for the record, the quote came from a 2003 article in the NYT about UNITE's efforts to organize Cintas (archived at CommonDreams).

Here's what he said:

"There's no reason to subject the workers to an election," he said, adding that employees were often vulnerable to threats, intimidation and firing during election drives. (my emphasis)
The context is kinda important, don't you think? In fact, I wouldn't even call the threat of intimidation and harassment "context" in this case. I'd call it "a secondary clause in the same damn sentence which apparently, for stylistic reasons, the author decided to present without quotation marks."

Incidentally, violating labor law has been a matter of course for Cintas, so you can see why an NLRB-sponsored election might prompt serious concerns. This guy has a lot more in common with Kim Jong Il and Castro than Bruce Raynor.

Anyway, the ad I linked to above was created by the Center for Union Facts, a newly-formed non-profit that has gone on the attack against union organizing with front-page ads in the NYT, the WSJ, & the Post. The site itself is poorly researched at best, and libelous at worst -- if not actually in violation of labor law. As an example, check out Nathan Newman's dissection of their statistics regarding "labor racketeering." And it goes without saying that when you stock "impartial" government agencies with rabid anti-union advocates, and you instruct them to go after unions, you'll get more government cases against unions. So simple volume of cases isn't much to base an argument on -- though, as I'll get to below, the substance of those cases is indeed crucial.

The CUF is a front group. It's run by Rick Berman, who some of you may remember from his industry-funded attacks on smoking laws, drunk-driving laws, health laws, and environmental laws. If that doesn't float your boat, how about his industry-funded attacks on the minimum wage laws, living wage laws, and healthcare laws? Yup, that's him too. Quick CV: he's worked as a labor lawyer for steel & auto producers. He's worked as a lobbyist for food, alcohol, & tobacco industries.

And -- wait for it -- he was the labor law director of the US Chamber of Commerce under Nixon.

So, no big surprises there.

What's funny about the site, to me, is that no matter how corrupt and greedy they try to make unions look, the numbers that are supposed to shock us are actually pretty paltry. The president of an international union makes $200,000 a year? Good lord! And the political contributions, which are supposed to enrage the common man, are comically small compared with industry counterparts. In fact, they're small compared with the $5 million/year Berman plans to spend on this campaign.

HOWEVER: It should definitely be noted that the CUF site, though its contents are hopelessly biased in their presentation, does offer a wealth of details in the areas of corruption & criminal behavior. Labor movement proponents (including myself) have often been heard to argue that crime and corruption are just as prevalent, or more prevalent, in corporate America or government as they are in organized labor. While this may be true, there's a reason we hold ourselves to a higher standard, and we can't choose when that standard is enforced. The actions of union leaders in practicing, condoning, or ignoring corrupt/criminal behavior within their organizations is despicable, and should be decried at all levels of the movement, and outside it.

The thing is, of course, that exposure isn't what they're after. Berman admitted as much when he was working for the restaurant industry, in an interview the Chain Leader trade publication (link unavailable):

“Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger. Given the activists’ plans to alarm beyond all reason, we’ve got to attack their credibility as spokespersons.”

It would be great if a site called "Union facts" actually contained a balanced presentation of, well, union facts. Like the union/non-union wage differential, unionization rates in public/private sector, by industry, skill level, etc. Benefits across union/non-union professions, union stance/involvement in various social/political issues, history, relevant law & how it's generally applied, etc. That would put the corruption, crime, and political contributions in context, and -- I'd argue -- would do a lot more to erode call attention to the existing problems.

No comments: