September 19, 2008 Volume 109 Number 18

Labor group counters anti-union TV ads

After months of anti-union television commercials, the union-supported group American Rights at Work has launched a $5 million nationwide ad campaign aimed at building public support for the Employee Free Choice Act. The ads started airing on Labor Day and will run several times a day through Sept. 28.

The Employee Free Choice Act — a bill in Congress that would make it easier for workers to unionize — is the U.S. labor movement’s top legislative priority. Anti-union groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the corporate-funded Employee Freedom Action Committee, are campaigning against the bill this election season, and trying to tarnish Democratic candidates who support it.

“Some union bosses and their politician friends want to do away with privacy when it comes to join a union,” says one such ad. The anti- Employee Free Choice Act campaign hammers away on one feature of the bill — it would require employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers signed union cards. Right now, employers get to decide whether they want to recognize the union that way, or force a government-run election. If unions get to make that choice, they might opt for the “card-check” method, which would make a “secret-ballot” union election unnecessary.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is silent about intimidation by employers opposing unionization, but says it’s concerned that union organizers will intimidate workers into signing cards.

The new American Rights at Work ad, on the other hand, paints the bill in a positive light. The ad says the Employee Free Choice Act helps workers get a union — so they can improve their lives.

“We’re not trying to respond to their misleading message frames,” said American Rights at Work spokesperson Josh Goldstein. “They’ve crafted their message to be about secret ballots and intimidation. Those images of intimidation strike a nerve, regardless of the fact that it has nothing to do with this issue. We’re trying to switch focus to what unions can do for you in making a better life.”

“CEO salaries and benefits are getting fatter and fatter,” a female voice- over says in the Oregon version of the ad, “while workers face soaring gas prices, foreclosures, and rising health care costs.” The visual at this point is an expensively-dressed “CEO” sitting at one end of a see-saw. He laughs uncontrollably as the see-saw tilts in his favor. On the other side of the see-saw is a “worker” wearing a toolbelt.

But the ad continues: “The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers the freedom to form a union so they can earn better wages, retirement security, and health care coverage,” the narrator says. The CEO stops laughing, and now the camera shows the worker with a tool belt has been joined by four other workers. The see-saw now tilts their way.

The ad closes with a Web address — — and a pitch: “Call Gordon Smith. Tell him to support the Employee Free Choice Act and stop siding with wealthy CEOs over working families.”

Identical ads naming other opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act are running in Alaska, Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire. And a version of the ad without the pitch airs on nationwide television, including CNN Headline News and MSNBC.

The Oregon version of the ad can be viewed at

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