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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”1 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,2 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, www.unionfacts.com, 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.4  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."5 

In August 2006, the Center launched a new $1 million television, radio, and print ad campaign in Michigan, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon,6 which attacked public employees, implying they are overpaid and ineffective.  Berman’s antics drew immediate scrutiny in the press and by government officials.  Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath challenged the ads, calling them “inaccurate” and “demeaning”7 and the Helena Independent Record called out Berman’s attempts to disconnect the ads from a controversial state ballot measure.8 

Berman was caught flip-flopping about the rationale for the ad placements in the four states, which all have radical spending-cap measures pending on the fall ballot.  While Berman initially claimed there was no special reason why the states were chosen9 – and that they definitely weren’t connected to any multi-state political strategy – he finally admitted the ballot measures “were a factor” in choosing the states.10 These measures just happen to be bankrolled by the fringe libertarian group Americans for Limited Government, run by Howie Rich, a wealthy, but relatively unknown real estate mogul.11  The measures also just happen to be opposed by unions, among others.  The media revealed that a Berman staffer recently made a presentation on the ads at a conference of Americans for Limited Government12, and although a Berman spokesperson confirmed the presentation occurred, she tried to deny any connection the Center has to the group.13   

Berman has tried to insert himself as the new high-profile mouthpiece for the anti-union network. Through these large ad buys and a multi-million dollar budget, the Center has acquired a sizable amount of earned media.  Berman has authored op-eds for the Center in the following conservative newspapers: The Washington Times, The Examiner (DC edition),and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Berman has also been quoted as an “expert” on union issues in The New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and in wire articles prepared by United Press International.14

Who’s Behind the Center?

While the Center claims to represent the interests of workers,15 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,”16 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,”17 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,18 and he still has strong ties to the Chamber through Randel Johnson, Vice President for Labor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.19  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.20  Randel Johnson has repeatedly denied any Chamber funding of the Center, yet admitted “he had served as an adviser to the Center.”21

  • On its website, the Center claims it is “supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public.”22  Berman will only divulge that several companies and a foundation fund the Center, but will not release the names of his donors.23

  • No individuals, foundations, or corporations have come forward to admit any sponsorship of the Center.  Why wouldn’t they want to distance themselves from Berman’s hyperbolic and unsupported rhetoric?  Berman gets paid to say what responsible business leaders don’t want attributed to them.  The Washington Post reported that food industry officials, who would only be interviewed about Berman, "on the condition that they not be identified by name or by where they work, said that by keeping the sponsors anonymous, Berman’s group can be more vociferous, provocative and irreverent in its criticisms.24

  • As recently as 2005, Berman stated that “All of my clients are corporations.”25  Berman and his various front groups have received funding from the tobacco, food, restaurant, and hotel industries, including such companies as Coca-Cola, Tyson Foods, Wendy’s, Host Marriott, and Brinker International, which owns the Chili’s restaurant chain,26 as well as Philip Morris—which gave Berman nearly $3 million in 1998.27

  • Berman & Company disclosed its industry-supported agenda when describing itself as a “Research and communications firm for the hospitality and beverage industry” in a 2002 lobbyist registration form on record with the U.S. Senate.28

  • Berman’s PR agenda is clearly driven by the profit concerns of his industry clients, as he himself claimed, "…we don’t chase the smaller issues…our work is restricted to and focused on issues that affect shareholder value. These big issues include labor costs…”29

 
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