Forced-labor unionism exposed in Colo. ads

It's all about state-mandated union dues, fees

Throughout the 2008 election season, 9NEWS is committed to holding those who take out political commercials on our station accountable for what they say. The following is a Truth Test about two separate 30-second ads being run by the Center for Union Facts (www.unionfacts.com). The non-profit is registered as a 501©4 under the federal tax code, as a "social welfare organization." Its donors do not have to be disclosed under federal law. It is spending more than $150,000 to advertise on 9NEWS, My20 and other stations in the Denver television market.

"We're running these ads across the country to raise awareness of union bosses' deceptive attempt to take away employees right to a private ballot vote," wrote Tim Miller, the organization's communications director, in an e-mail. "We're running the ads in a number of different markets across the country where labor issues are getting a lot of attention."

Critics called the Center's Executive Director Rick Berman "a political hit man." Jess Knox, who is with a group called Protect Colorado's Future (http://www.protectcoloradosfuture.org/) that is advocating for ballot initiatives that are supported by Colorado's major unions, said Berman's history includes attacking Mothers Against Drunk Driving for proposing stiffer alcohol limits for drivers. He said the ads "interfere with a legitimate conversation taking place in Colorado," over worker rights.

The commercials include "union workers" critical of their bosses for, among other things, donating their wages to politicians they don't like. It also highlights a mock-school election where a young boy tells the class their votes for student body president will not be secret, an example of how "labor bosses have a new scheme to do away with the secret ballot."

AD #1 - "Why I Love My Union"

QUOTE: What do you love about your union? You know what I love? Paying union dues just so I can keep my job.

TRUTH: This needs some explanation.

First of all, federal law states that no one can be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. The National Labor Relations Act states full union membership cannot be compelled. (Source: American Bar Association overview of labor law published by the Bureau of National Affairs: http://www.bna.com/bnabooks/ababna/special/us.pdf.)

However, if someone's working in a union shop, meaning an election has been overseen by the National Labor Relations Board and a majority of workers have chosen to be represented by the union in talks with management, they can be required to pay what are called "agency fees." What that means is, if the union is representing all of the workers on issues like wages and benefits with management, every worker can be required to pay agency fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining. Failure to do so could lead to a worker being fired. (Source: American Bar Association overview of labor law published by the Bureau of National Affairs: http://www.bna.com/bnabooks/ababna/special/us.pdf.)

Union critics will call that a distinction without a difference, while union supporters will argue if workers get the benefits of having collective bargaining by the union in terms of higher wages and better benefits, they ought to pay for that representation. Further, they'll argue people agree to work at a job knowing full well whether it's a union shop or not. Critics say they should not be required to leave their jobs if they don't like unions and vote in the minority when it comes to union representation.

Colorado's labor law is unique. In 1943, state lawmakers passed and Gov. John Vivian (R-Colorado) signed into law the Labor Peace Act which requires two secret-ballot votes, the second of which must be a 75 percent supermajority, in order to create a union and a so-called "closed shop." (Source: CO Department of Labor and Employment, Labor Peace Act: http://www.coworkforce.com/lab/LaborPeaceAct.pdf.)

QUOTE: I think it's great my union dues are going to politicians I don't even like.

TRUTH: This could be true.

Each union operates differently in how or if it donates to political candidates. Some have specific political action fund boards created and staffed by members to determine where donations could go. Others have executive committees make those decisions. In some cases, whatever political donations are made come from a fund separate of regular union dues. Still, it's entirely possible that individual members end up having money from their union go to political candidates they don't support.

In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colorado) last year reversed a decision by the previous Gov. Bill Owens (R-Colorado), and Colorado state workers who belong to unions will now have their union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Owens had issued an executive order to provide for what's sometimes called "paycheck protection," to require unions to prove its importance to its members. State union workers were given the choice to opt in, rather than to opt out. Ritter reversed that in 2007. (Source: Colorado Governor's Office Executive Orders.)

There does not appear to be any definitive answer legally as to whether a union worker can ask that their dues NOT go to a particular political candidate. When queried on the topic, Nate Strauch, the Communications Director for Colorado's Attorney General's office, wrote in an e-mail, "According to our employment law experts, it's a grey area. To our knowledge, no employee in Colorado has ever sued to determine whether or not that sort of request has to be honored. But as far as any statutory requirement, there isn't one."

QUOTE: It's super. I work harder but get paid less just because I don't have seniority.

TRUTH: This is opinion.

However, this is not a feature exclusive to union shops. There are numerous anecdotal examples of seniority being valued over productivity through the history of America. (Source: Law Professor Blogs: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/laborprof_blog/2006/10/european_court_.html.) There are also stories where the opposite is true. (Source: Workplace Blog: http://weblogs.elearning.ubc.ca/workplace/archives/045865.php.)

QUOTE: I think it's cool how you can legally harass people into joining a union.

TRUTH: This is false.

As we mentioned earlier, federal law states that no one can be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. The National Labor Relations Act states full union membership cannot be compelled. (Source: American Bar Association overview of labor law published by the Bureau of National Affairs: http://www.bna.com/bnabooks/ababna/special/us.pdf.) Critics may say we're being naïve and that colleague pressure, if not outright harassment, while illegal, takes place all the time. Union supporters say it's the employers who do the harassing towards workers who want to negotiate for better wages and benefits.

However, the sentiment conveyed in the commercial is regularly investigated by federal law enforcement activities. For example, the Office of the Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Labor stated in a November, 2004 report that, "Schemes involving bribery, extortion, deprivation of union rights by violence, and embezzlement used by early racketeers are still employed to abuse the power of unions." (Source: http://www.oig.dol.gov/public/reports/laborracpaper.pdf.)

The Center for Union Facts has posted a number of examples of union harassment it says has been documented through the years. (Source: http://unionfacts.com/articles/crimeViolence.cfm.)

AD #2 - Student Election

QUOTE: Labor bosses have a new scheme to do away with the secret ballot. You can help us fight for democracy.

TRUTH: This is false.

The so-called "new" scheme is actually the "Employee Free Choice Act" that passed the House of Representatives in March 2007 before stalling out in the Senate on June 26,2007 (Source: Congressional Record: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR00800:@@@R.)

Technically, as introduced, H.R. 800 would not "do away with the secret ballot" currently being used to decide whether a workforce joins a union. It allows workers to also form a union by collecting the signatures of a majority of workers. (Source: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR00800:@@@R.) It's called a "card-check" option.

Union critics say the fact their votes will no longer be secret and overseen by the government opens workers up to intimidation and harassment. In reality, they say the secret ballot will never be used again as union organizers will always want to confront employees in person until they sign the card authorizing the union.

Union supporters meanwhile say it simply gives workers another, more direct way, of creating a union through a democratic process. More specifically, they believe it gives more workers access to "bargain for a better life," according to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. (Source: AFL-CIO Press Release: http://www.aflcio.org/mediacenter/prsptm/pr06262007a.cfm.)

In the House vote, 228 Democrats voted for the measure with two others voting against it. Thirteen Republicans voted for the plan while 183 voted against it. Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) voted for the measure and his opponent for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat, former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colorado), is opposed to it. The Center for Union Facts is running these commercials in other states with competitive U.S. Senate races (i.e. Maine and Oregon) in an effort to highlight differences between the candidates. (Source: Phone interview with Tim Miller, Center for Union Facts Communications Director, on June 18, 2008.)

In Colorado, a group called Coloradans for Employee Freedom plans to weigh in on the card check issue and other labor issues as a sister organization of the Center for Union Facts. (Source: Coloradans for Employee Freedom: http://laborpains.org/?cat=55.) A group called Protect Colorado's Future has been formed to advocate for the state's union interests. (Source: Protect Colorado's Future: http://www.protectcoloradosfuture.org/.)


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