Rick Berman is a person who puts his money where his mouth is. The pugilistic Washington, D.C. lobbyist, trained as a labor lawyer, believes unions in this country for too long have been unaccountable to their members and the general public, and with baneful consequences. He’s formed a new nonprofit group to do something about it.
The organization is called the Center for Union Facts. Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal readers got a taste of its presence on Monday, February 13, when they encountered a full-page ad featuring a picture of a “Closed” sign over a padlocked gate, with the caption, “The New Union Label…Brought to you by the union ‘leaders’ who helped bankrupt steel, auto, and airline companies.” The center also went on a hunting expedition – in a manner of speaking. Picketers placed a 15-foot dinosaur outside AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., a symbolic rebuke to the common union practice of placing a large, inflatable rat at job sites that don’t hire union labor. They mimicked union behavior in another way, marching in a circle carrying signs reading, “AFL-CIO: Colossal Fossil,” “Smart Union Leaders: Extinct?” and “Labor Leaders: Dis-Organized.” It looks like media-ready guerrilla theater, but it’s got a serious agenda.
“This is just the beginning of a major education campaign about union leadership,” said Berman. “It’s time that someone holds these people accountable. For too long those in charge of America’s labor movement have been running roughshod over their own members. We’re going to tell everyone the facts that labor leaders don’t want you to know.” The organization has a data base of more than 3 million facts about unions and their practices, for better and (usually) for worse. Unions as of late have been stepping up their anti-corporate campaigns, but Berman knows all about anti-corporate campaigns. He’s executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a decade-old group founded to fight smoking curbs in restaurants; founder of the American Beverage Institute, which fights restrictions on alcohol use; and founder of the Employment Policies Institute, which opposes raising the minimum wage and enacting state and local living-wage ordinances. Those aren’t the kind of jobs that win popularity contests. But they do require money.
Berman raised about $2.5 million from unnamed companies, trade associations and individuals to get his latest project off the ground. The unions, to nobody’s surprise, are nonplussed. “Workers are having more and more successes, so it’s not surprising that this group has decided to fight back against workers’ efforts and fight efforts to keep corporate power in check,” said Lane Windham, an AFL-CIO spokeswoman. Yet Berman came up with the idea for this venture years ago. And even if he did think of it yesterday, that’s hardly grounds for incrimination. Unions need to have their feet kept to the fire – for that matter, that’s what Union Corruption Update is all about. The group’s website, www.unionfacts.com, indicates that in fiscal year 2005, labor racketeering investigations produced 322 indictments and $187.9 million worth of fines, restitutions, forfeitures, and civil monetary actions. In other words, the Center for Union Facts has plenty of work ahead. UCU welcomes the organization to a common endeavor. (Washington Post, 2/14/06; Bloomberg News, 2/14/06; PR Newswire Association, 2/13/06).