6/19/08

Coloradans for Employee Freedom launched

Group formed to promote worker-choice issues

Any hope of Colorado's business community and its unions coming to a labor peace won't be helped by a $150,000-plus television commercial buy blasting union leaders for corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The ads running on stations around Denver, including 9NEWS, are paid for by the Center for Union Facts. It's an organization founded more than two years ago because "labor bosses were going unchallenged," said spokesman Tim Miller. "The commercials are our way to educate the public about the mismanagement of union dues."

The commercials include "union workers" critical of their bosses for donating their wages to politicians they don't like and also, highlight a mock-school election where a young boy tells the class their votes for student body president will not be secret. He says his committee of friends will ensure students vote the right way, a metaphor for what union critics have long said.

Colorado voters may have the chance to decide competing worker issues this fall at the ballot box. Amendment 47, called "Right to Work," would prevent unions from collecting mandatory dues in workplaces that have collective bargaining, has already qualified for the ballot. The group running that campaign calls itself A Better Colorado. To counter that, Colorado's unions are collecting signatures to require that all businesses with 20 or more employees provide health care coverage.

Political leaders like Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colorado), Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) have asked both sides to back down, to respect Colorado's current "Labor Peace Act," which was passed by state lawmakers in 1943. It requires a special employee vote before a workplace can become unionized.

Jess Knox with Protect Colorado's Future, the group advocating the union initiatives, denounced the ad campaign and attacked Rick Berman, the individual behind the Center for Union Facts. In 2006, Business Week magazine reported Berman's creation of the Center to stop union recruitment and also his previous public relations efforts, such as one on behalf of liquor makers to "go after Mothers Against Drunk Driving for proposing stiffer alcohol limits for drivers."

He also pointed out the ad campaign begins less than a week after the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce board voted to oppose Amendment 47, and roughly two weeks after his group alleged massive fraud in court filings as it related to the amendment's signature gatherers.

"The message should be discounted because of the messenger," said Knox. "The folks who are advocating this issue are struggling, they're treading water, so in comes this political hit man. You have to take it with a grain of salt."

The commercials have been running in Maine and Oregon. Miller said they will be supplemented by a local group called Coloradans for Employee Freedom which has Independence Institute President Jon Caldara and former State Senate Majority Leader Mark Hillman (R-Colorado) on its board. That group, he said, will advertise "in a way that educates voters about where politicians stand on important issues, particularly on issues of worker freedom."

Both organizations are registered as 501(c)4 under the federal tax code, meaning they are identified as "social welfare organizations." It also means their donors can remain private.

"We have businesses and individuals who have donated to our group," Miller said, "but unions have a history of violence and intimidation, so we choose not to identify them."

Knox said his group which is also registered as a 501(c)4 is identifying all of its donors and the contrast should tell voters more than the commercials themselves.

"They're trying to interfere with a legitimate conversation taking place in Colorado," Knox said. "It's disappointing they've turned to a paid hit man from out of state once they felt the heat."

(9news.com)

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