"Union Facts": Pure Fiction

By Tom Chamberlain of Portland, Oregon. Tom is the president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. Previously, Tom contributed "Bush appointees poised to wipe out 1/3 of labor movement".

You may have seen the spiteful full-page newspaper ad or the prime-time commercials from a group calling itself the "Center for Union Facts". If you smelled a rat, you’re right. Here are the real facts behind the distortions.

FACT: The Center for Union Facts is a PR facade

Richard Berman’s Center for Union Facts is reportedly funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which fights against unions on worker-friendly laws like the prevailing wage for construction workers, minimum wage increases, and Fair Share Health Care legislation. An anonymous source revealed to the AFL-CIO that, in a meeting of the State Chambers of Commerce National Conference held on Sanibel Island in Florida on January 26, the State Chambers announced they were spending $8 million a year ($2 million a quarter) to launch this anti-union campaign.

USA Today last month said that Berman’s the go-to guy for “nasty fights,” and cites sources describing him as “Dr. Evil,” "sleazy," "sophomoric" and “the Beltway's most outrageous advocate." Berman replied: "I was born in the Bronx. I actually enjoy all these attacks."

FACT: This attack is related to unions’ success in fighting for working families.

The Progressive States Network found that despite Berman’s denials, his group is in bed with Americans for Limited Government, Grover Norquist’s group that’s pushing Colorado’s TABOR failed spending limit in several states. Unions in all four states that are being attacked by Berman this week – Oregon, Michigan, Nevada and Montana – are fighting the failed Colorado experiment. In Oregon, this is Measure 48.

The American Prospect wrote an excellent expose in which quotes Berman as saying, "Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger. We've got to attack [advocates'] credibility as spokespersons."

FACT: Berman’s PR machine is notorious for creating front groups to spread distortions and attack consumer and progressive groups.

Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom has attacked Mothers Against Drunk Driving, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on behalf of alcohol, fast food, and tobacco lobbies.

His American Beverage Institute was set up to fight laws aimed at increasing safety regarding alcohol and drinking/diving laws.

His Employment Policies Institute fights minimum wage increases, especially in low-wage, labor-intensive sectors such as the restaurant industry.

His FishScam.com web site encourages pregnant women to disregard federal mercury guidelines and eat more albacore tuna.

FACT: The “UnionFacts” are nothing more than distortions and half-truths

The centerpiece of Berman’s anti-worker campaign is a website that purports to show the “facts” on unions, but which offers distortions instead. In posting union staff salaries (which already are publicly available from the U.S. Department of Labor), the website does not distinguish between salaries and travel expenses, inflating salaries so that union field reps who are reimbursed for travel and lodging look like high-paid officials.

While highlighting the fact that there have been "$400 million in labor racketeering fines and civil restitution in the last five years," Berman's outfit ignored that almost all of the penalties in question were being paid by businesses, not unions, violating labor law.

Their ads feature actors speaking as working people, but in fact the group attacks the groups who work for fair wages, safe working conditions, and a better life for hard working Americans. Further, the full-page ad in the Oregonian, with a model posing as a worker sneering at the camera, is just plain mean. People who work for a living deserve better than to be mocked by corporate lobbyists like Berman, who rakes in $10 million a year.

More information on Richard Berman is online at ConsumerDeception.com.

  • Ugh (unverified)

    Thanks for the scoop. I've been wondering what this is really about.

    Is it just me, or was that TV ad particularly nasty toward working women? One was black, with a gap in her teeth, and the other was middle-aged and overweight. The corresponding newspaper ad complains about how much they earn. Why aren't they complaining about how much white corporate CEOs earn?

  • David (unverified)

    I find it amusing that the "Facts" they cite are things that I think not just public employees deserve. From (http://www.unionfacts.com/states/state.cfm?state=OR):

    Thanks to lobbying by government employee union bosses and the contracts they hammer out, Oregon’s public employees often work under conditions that most private-sector taxpayers would envy. Typical employment includes:

    * 12-26 days of vacation, based on seniority
    * 8 hours of sick leave per month
    * Up to 18 hours of personal leave each year
    * Nine paid holidays
    * Benefit dollars to spend on medical and dental insurance, and life insurance for employee and/or dependents
    * Membership in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS)

    ---End quote

    Omg, public employees get such outlandish things as vacation, paid holidays, health care, sick leave, and retirement plans. This is going to backfire on them. When the average Oregon government employee salary is all of $42,560 (again according to this website) that is hardly outlandish compared to what these people would earn in the private sector, and is often in fact lower than they would earn there. Public employees ought to be, if anything, rewarded for their excellent work in the public interest, and thus they deserve every penny they get.

  • amen (unverified)

    Well said. We need MORE family wage jobs with benefits, not fewer. It frustrates me when people complain that union members have better benefits than they do. Instead of tearing other people down, they should get their own union contract and start living better themselves.

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    The information in this article has been adapted to a workplace literature piece and is available for downloading at this link.

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    I am so tired of millions of out of state dollars being pumped into Oregon in an attempt to mislead us!

    The DMC picture was particularly offensive to me after my last license renewal. It was a quick process with pleasant clerks. I can't remember the last time I dealt with someone in government with such a bad grimace. They clearly must have plucked that lady from a McMenamins!

  • Half Truths (unverified)

    Which half is not True? That public employee unions donated over $3 million to democrats or that they donated less than $300,000 to republican candidates?

  • Becky (unverified)

    FYI, Americans for Limited Government is Howard Rich's and Paul Jacob's group. Norquist is also supporting this effort by funneling money through his Americans for Tax Reform.

    There is more than a casual connection between the Union "Facts" ad campaign and Measure 48. I've documented some of it here.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    You can smell the out-of-state money just on the basis of their attack on the DMV. Most companies in the private sector could learn something about customer service from the Oregon DMV.

    That FishScam.com is encouraging pregnant women to ignore mercury warnings is especially odious.

  • anon (unverified)

    In trying to see things the union way there's something intellectually empty with "FACT" number 4 shown above.

    "the website does not distinguish between salaries and travel expenses, inflating salaries so that union field reps who are reimbursed for travel and lodging look like high-paid officials".

    Start with an inflated salary, for argument's sake let's say you make a $100 salary. You spend $25 for travel and lodging. Later on you get reimbursed $25 for travel and lodging. You are back where you started, a $100 salary. So at the end of the day you are back to an inflated $100 salary.

    How that is distorted.

  • John Keyes (unverified)

    If expenses are reimbursed as described by Anon Unionfacts adds the reimbursed expense to the salary. For example if your salary was $100 and you spent $25 on expense for which you are reimbursed Unionfacts is adding the $25 to your $100 salary and reporting that you are earning $125.

  • Union Thug (unverified)

    I love it. You people are complaining about outside money? Who the hell has been contributing to Oregon democrats and their causes for the last several years? Public Employee Unions from out of state! How much money did they pour into this state distorting various ballot measures (like Measure 8 in 1994), lying to the voters etc.

    Nothing in this post suggests that anything in the ads is untrue. Instead, this guy's post attacks Mr. Berman personally, and only once addresses the claims in the ads (and not very well, I might add).

    Democrats and union thugs have had free reign in this state for several years (with the help of the WhOregonian) and now that someone is fighting back you all have your panties in a wad. I love it. As soon as someone lifts up the rock and shines a light, the union parasites go scurrying for cover.

    That is a fact. Don't believe me, just look at all the comments here. You guys are pissed because someone is attacking the Oregon Democratic Gravy Train.....

    And another thing....does it seem even the least bit hypocritcal for all of you to complain about money spent in Oregon (regardless of where it comes from) when the general public is well aware that you leftos are bought and sold by the public employee unions?

    Think for yourself and come up with a real response.....

  • laborchick (unverified)

    "union thug":

    you are misled and hotheaded. the unions"facts" website is full of things that are false or misleading, and you are choosing to believe their bunk over the possibilities of worker power and change.

    for example, they state that dues dollars go to finance candidates. that is simply not true, because it is illegal. there are certainly problems in the labor movement, as there are problems in the corporate world: corruption, individual greed, misdirected/misguided principles. i don't argue that. but the overwhelming majority of working people who choose to form unions do so because they want to improve their station in life, want better opportunities for their families, their communities, and their workplaces. these people are not corrupt, or greedy, or stealing from OTHER tax-payers (yes! public employees pay taxes like the rest of us!).

    people like the corporate thugs who run union"facts," and the brainwashed folks like you who listen, are contributing to the problem in america: the wal-martizing of the country's jobs. low wages, no health benefits, no pension, no job security, no grievance procedure, insanely high CEO:worker salary ratios, disrespect on the job, hazardous working conditions, discrimination...this list goes on and on. do you really want the world to look like that? honestly? is that the kind of environment you'd like to see your children work in?

    good companies reward their workers. you don't have to be a greedy corporate pig to make money. just smart.

    wake up and see through their whitewash: they just want to keep all the money at the top, and squish the little people -- even you, union thug.

  • lionloco (unverified)

    Re: the response from "union-thug". What a hilarious diatribe from an obviously demented and duped right-wing elitist.

    I am not even going to try to address the bs statements in his/her posting.

    With blinders like this, there is nothing anyone can do to educate someone that has obviously forgotten, or convenietly doesn't remember all the rightie fat cat politicos and corporate slugs crawling and squirming like hell to distance themselves from the Abramoff,Enron,Duke Cunningham,etc (and ad nauseum), scandals. The very scandals that corporate righties have been using to buy and sell America to the highest bidder.

    Nooooo, righties like this do not want us to remember all the workers lives that have been lost fighting for an 8-hour day, the right-wing governors calling out the Nat'l Guard to fire into strikers camps and lawful picket lines, killing women and children; the imprisonment and hangings of union organizers helping their brothers and sisters fight for a share of America's wealth.

    And they sure do not want any of us to ever organize ourselves. That is what this is all about. Organized Labor is the engine that Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, the Chamber Of Commerce, Koch Industries, etc and et al, want to blow up because we are the only cohesive organization that is standing in their way of the plutocracy they envision for themselves.

    To union-thug, if you are not so deluded that you cannot still read on your own, try this. I will make it easy for you. Read the manifesto of Grover Norquist. You should really enjoy it. And follow your own advice about thinking for yourself!

  • YoungOregonVoter (unverified)

    Do you smell that? I smell a straw man! Even better, it is from the head of a union! How novel! To make it even better, Tom does not substantiate his assertions! Now if only I Am Coyote was here, then we would have some merit-based arguments via "source:.." at the end of an assertion. This article is a song to the choir whom immediately starts name calling anyone who criticizes their point of view instead of retorting with a logical, substantiated argument. Keep up the good work!

  • anon (unverified)

    "...(which already are publicly available from the U.S. Department of Labor), the website does not distinguish between salaries and travel expenses, inflating salaries so that union field reps who are reimbursed for travel.."

    This is a shell game unless we can see the actual DOL document cited.

    Can somebody post the exact link to the exact DOL salary + travel expenses document? Oregon AFL-CIO has this link let's see it. Three columns should appear amongst all the others (1) salary (2) reimbursed expenses (3) benefits.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    The funny thing is the anti-union folks are working five days a week, for minimum wage, in a strip mall in New Jersey and they have THE UNIONS to thank for not working eight days a week for a buck an hour. How do I know they work out of a strip mall? I called the chum line girlz and asked them myself! Poor kids.

  • laborchick (unverified)

    i think it's remarkable that people are so very interested in what union organizers make (i am one, and i make a very decent salary with great benefits -- exactly what every working person should), but no one is asking CEOs and corporate heads to post THEIR salaries and benefits. the head of our local (Exec Director - (ED)) makes less than some of our members. ED still makes fair amount of money, sure, but ED has a hell of a lot of reponsibilities that you couldn't pay me TWICE ED's salary to take on. and ED certainly makes many many many times less than your average corporate bigwig.

    people are so tied to the rhetoric of the extreme right that they're cutting off their noses, their families noses, and their community-members' noses just to spite their face. well, i say, "good luck." as those of us who can think for ourselves all realize, If it weren’t for unions, we’d all be working in sweatshops.

  • Jon (unverified)

    Most companies in the private sector could learn something about customer service from the Oregon DMV.

    OMG, I hope that was a joke...

    the overwhelming majority of working people who choose to form unions do so because they want to improve their station in life, want better opportunities for their families, their communities, and their workplaces.

    Thats fine, but you can also do that yourself. I did. And you will feel better about it too. My income has gone from $10/hr to $26/hr in my 12 years since college. I did it without anyone's help. Never been in a union. Never worked at a union shop. I have worked places where unions have tried to come in, but they were turned down every time. I guess I just feel that I can fight my own battles, and I dont have to pay someone else to do it for me.

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    Hmmm. This Union Facts guy isn't running an anonymous website. He appears to stand behind everything he writes. According to this story he "rakes in $10 million a year".

    Seems like a worthy target for a libel lawsuit if his site is full of lies and intentional misrepresentations. Doesn't seem like it would be a problem collecting a judgment against him - that is, if you can prove that he's lying.

    I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the lawsuit. We're likely to see Barry Bonds suing over the steroid allegations first.

    Sure the union bosses will dispute the allegations to their members, but they know that seeking legal vindication (where "truth" is a defense) would also require them to testify under oath.

  • LT (unverified)

    In the 21st century, who are "union bosses"? Sure the union bosses will dispute the allegations to their members, but they know that seeking legal vindication (where "truth" is a defense) would also require them to testify under oath.

    If the OEA president makes only a fraction (1/3 was what the local news story sounded like one time when I heard a news story about it while making dinner) of the amount the girl put on the board saying it is the "union president's salary", that is inaccurate. News story said it was the NATIONAL union president's salary. If the ad doesn't say national union president's salary, and these ads are running in states with TABOR sort of measures on the ballot, that would be enough to make me distrust these ads as inaccurate.

    How about an ad showing pay package (pay and benefits) of union leadership, along with management pay. Are there school administrators making twice what teachers make? Can every school district administrative position be justified? Or would that ruin the fun of the guy who paid for this ad?

    I'm no unquestioning union supporter,(as some union people I know will tell you) but as long as there are rich individuals making such misleading commercials, there needs to be some organized group with the resources to present an opposing side.

  • anon (unverified)

    My penis orbits your anus

  • Jon (unverified)

    as those of us who can think for ourselves all realize, If it weren’t for unions, we’d all be working in sweatshops.

    I think that is BS. And besides, if you can think for yourself, why do you need a union to "protect" you?

  • Chris McMullen (unverified)

    Poncho hit it right on the head. Let's wait and see what lawsuits arise from the site's claims. If none arise, it can be deduced Mr. Chamberlain's article is fallacious.

    I also find it amusing how Chamberlain neglects to tackle the union intimidation, illegal discrimination and violence alleged on the site. I know full well unions have been known to slash tires and heave bricks through the windows of folks who don't want to participate.

    Heck, just look how members behave during strikes. They repeatedly display behavior not very becoming of a peace-loving liberal.

  • John Keyes (unverified)

    Chris-I think you have watch too many Soprano re-runs. When was the last time you heard about violence on a picket line? Do you have examples of union discrimination and violence? Didn't think so.

    This just does not happen in this day and age. If you are worker or a member of the middle class everything and I mean every think you have has been gained through the union movement. My quess is your not someone who works for a living but are one of those people born on third base and think you hit a triple.

    Turn off Fox news and wake up and see what is happening to America before it is too late.

  • LT (unverified)

    Jon, Do you like working several hours without a break, or do you welcome having a break after 3 hours of work? Do you appreciate the 8 hour day and the min. wage?

    If you are self employed, you have the right to say you don't need unions. But anyone who works for someone else has unions and other activists of 100 years or so ago to thank for the simple things like breaks, lunches, signs over the door which say "this exit is to be kept open during business hours" and other things we take for granted. Get a good history of 100 years ago and start reading.

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    Well written. I had to make this point to students where I previously taught (less so at Reed) all the time.

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