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Don’t Trust The “Facts”

Don’t Trust the Facts at the Center for Union ‘Facts’

Richard Berman is routinely questioned in the media about his agenda, his funders, his tactics, and his claims.  His firms often dispute solid science, grossly exaggerate, and offer dubious or erroneous statistics to further the agenda of his industrial clients, whether by claiming there isn’t much evidence that secondhand smoke causes cancer,55 or by disputing the existence of a public health crisis linked to obesity.56  Therefore, it should be of no surprise that the “union facts” presented on the Center for Union Facts’ website range from misleading to downright false.  Take a look at our closer inspection of some of its supposed 12.5 million ‘facts’ it proclaims “union leaders don’t want you to know.”57 

Dubious ‘Facts’ on Union Operations and Leadership


The Center’s claim:

“Recorded Incidents of Union Violence and Intimidation since 1975: 9,000+.”58

»Yet this supposed collection of ‘incidents’ is filled with inaccuracies and has been repeatedly discredited:

The National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILLR), which claims to have recorded over 9,000 incidents of union violence and intimidation,59 is an arm of the anti-union National Right to WorkThe data is full of holes and has been repeatedly discredited.  NILLR even confesses that it “cannot guarantee the accuracy of the file itself.”60  A 1986 report written by journalist Karin Chenoweth reveals the inaccuracies of some of the incidents NILLR supposedly recorded.61  Chenoweth uncovered that a judge ruled that a union official cited by NILLR for committing a violent act was actually framed by the employer—yet NILLR refused to retract its claims.62  In another case, the NILLR asserted that “union gunfire” was responsible for an alleged murder of a worker, but the case eventually ended in the conviction of a man not related to the union at all.63 

Georgetown University law professor Michael Gottesman asserted, “I am unaware of any empirical evidence to support the propositions that labor-related violence is a serious national problem,”64 in his testimony submitted for a 1997 Senate hearing on “Freedom From Union Violence,” a failed bill supported by Right to Work.  Gottesman also challenged the validity of the NILLR report on union violence, writing, “This paper employs overheated rhetoric and anecdotal narratives, usually without any source attribution, to claim that union-initiated violence is a national ‘crisis’…The Senate would be well advised to engage in careful fact-gathering before accepting these unsupported and unlikely assertions.”65  Julius Getman, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, testified before the Senate that the NILLR report is “filled with misleading and erroneous statementssituations in which unions are the victims are included among the overall count of labor violence.”66 


The Center’s claim:

“Union Racketeering Indictments since 2001: 1,142
Fines Paid Resulting from DOL Racketeering Investigations since 2001: $400 million.”67

»Yet these statistics are inaccurate and they deceptively include crimes committed against unions:

An analysis by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the AFL-CIO revealed the inaccuracies of the Department of Labor (DOL) data cited by the Center.68  The DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) routinely double and triple-counted union-related cases, and when researchers removed these duplicates, just over half of the cases remained.  Using a more accurate database, the researchers found that between fiscal years 2002 and 2005, “less than four one-hundredths of one percent (0.039%) of all union officers and employees tracked by OLMS were involved in criminal proceedings concerning financial misconduct, LMRDA recordkeeping violations and other such crimes.”

A blogger was even able to find inaccuracies in the database, finding that many of these cases involving large fines that were included in the $400 million figure cited by the Center actually involved crimes committed against unions, not by unions.69   


The Center claims:

“Total Union Officials and Staff Compensation in 2004: $3.7 billion.”70 

»These figures are bloated – either deliberately or because the Center does not understand government data.  Further, the figures are dwarfed in comparison to CEO pay:

The above figures are derived from the total ‘compensation’ data issued by the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards, which strangely lumps together both salary and reimbursements for such expenses as business-related travel.  It is atypical for anyone to measure out-of-pocket travel expenses as part of any employee’s salary.  The figures the Center uses are therefore bloated and misleading.  Other analyses of union leader compensation—which explicitly separate salary from business expenses—exist, such as the Bureau of National Affairs’ compilation.71 

Berman’s discussion of union leader compensation is conveniently silent about the growing wage gap between CEOs and the U.S. workforce.  Berman’s selective use of facts here is an apparent attempt to shift the debate about what really matters to America’s workers: unfair, excessive CEO pay.  In considering the salaries of union officials, it’s important to place them in context.  In 2004, the median salary for a union president from the 20 largest unions was $246,000.72  In stark contrast, CEOs of the 350 largest public companies earned a median of $975,000 in base salary, and $7 million in total direct compensation in 2004.73  Salaries for union presidents are also dwarfed by the salaries paid to directors of nonprofit trade associations.  The National Journal cited such top earners as Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, whose 2004 exit package exceeded $11 million; Thomas Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who earned nearly $7 million in pay and benefits in 2004; and Craig Fuller, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, who earned $3 million in pay and benefits in 2004.74  The Journal also noted 14 directors of trade associations who earned more than $1 million a year and who received generous payouts upon exiting the organizations.75  

It is important to note that the government only tracks the compensation of union officials, but not CEO pay.  It would be interesting if the government required such financial disclosures from Richard Berman and his network of front groups.  But it’s not likely to happen considering Berman’s close ties to the Department of Labor.


The Center claims:

“Total Union Political Action Committees Registered in the 2004 cycle:  368
Union PAC Money Spent on Political Candidates (2003-2004): $84.8 million”76

»Yet corporations spend dramatically more on politics than unions:

In 2004, there were 1,756 corporate PACs, more than five times the number of labor PACs, and these corporate PACs spent more than twice as much as labor PACs.77  When combining PAC money with soft and individual donations, business far outspends labor.  According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data, businesses spent nearly 25 times the amount spent by labor in the 2004 political cycle.78


Dubious ‘Facts’ on Worker Organizing Efforts


The Center claims:

“Total NLRB Elections Lost by Unions in 2004: 1,272”79

»This statistic is taken out of context and doesn’t include the number of workers forming unions through alternate means:  

Here, the Center takes a fact out of context and provides meaningless data. The Center wants to imply that because workers voted against union representation in 47 percent of the elections held in 2004,80 that a significant number of workers don’t want unions.  To the contrary, a recent poll demonstrated that 57 million workers would form a union tomorrow if given the chance.81  What the Center fails to mention is that our broken labor law system allows intimidation from employers during the NLRB election process, hindering workers’ free choice.  Recent research found that when faced with an organizing effort by their employees, 34 percent of employers fire pro-union workers, 57 percent threaten to close the worksite, and 47 percent threaten to cut wages and benefits.82  The same study found that employers are now more than twice as likely to use 10 or more tactics in their campaigns to thwart workers’ organizing efforts.83

Workers who want to form unions are abandoning the NLRB election system for voluntary recognition, where employer coercion is considerably less pervasive.84  Less than one-fifth of the 3 million workers who organized with affiliated unions from 1998 to 2003 did so through the NLRB election process.85   In 2005, 70 percent of the private-sector workers who joined unions in 2005 did so through the card check process.86


The Center claims:

“Total Unfair Labor Practices Filed Against Unions since 2000:  43,365”87

»In fact, employers commit the vast majority of unfair labor practices: 

The comparison of employer vs. union coercion is not a valid one.  According to NLRB Annual Reports, between fiscal years 2002 and 2004, an average of 22,000 unfair labor practice charges were lodged against employers per year—more than three times the number of charges filed against unions, which averaged 7,000 charges per year.88  Since only an employer has the power to hire, fire, and demote an employee, its discriminatory acts have a far greater impact on workers than those committed by a union.  An average of 23,000 workers per year are owed lost wages, and in some cases reinstatement to their former jobs, because their employers unlawfully fired or discriminated against them for union activity.89 

Further, the Center omits the context of what Unfair Labor Practices charges are:  preliminary allegations against a company or a union, and not formal complaints.  The NLRB investigates whether charges have any merit before it issues complaints.  Of the complaints issued by the NLRB in fiscal year 2004, 88.5 percent were lodged against employers, compared to only 9.7 percent against unions.90 

Not all of the charges filed against unions allege harm done to employees.  In fact, in fiscal year 2004, employers filed 19 percent of the charges against unions.91  Many of these charges claimed that the union and the workers they represent are engaging in illegal picketing or secondary boycotts in order to achieve union recognition or to secure a contract.

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