TV ad targeting unions raises profile of campaign against labor leaders

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By Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A commercial airing during WPXI's evening newscasts this week begins by asking the question "What do you love about your union?"

Actors playing workers then smile sweetly as they turn the question completely upside down.

"You know what I love?" says one woman dressed as a grocery clerk. "Paying union dues, just so I can keep my job."

It's the latest sarcastic salvo from the Center for Union Facts, a pro-business group that is waging an aggressive campaign against union leaders. And its content is such that a handful of stations nationwide have refused to run the ad.

"We haven't seen anything like this, anything that's as high profile, as seemingly well-funded, as systematic, in a long time," said Paul F. Clark, a professor of labor studies and industrial relations at Penn State University. "In a sense, it's kind of unprecedented."

In the ad, which debuted Tuesday nationwide, other actors portraying workers complain about union racial discrimination, corruption and political contributions.

Lane Windham, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., called the ad "outrageous and unfounded."

The Center for Union Facts, a group founded earlier this year by longtime lobbyist Rick Berman, has previously run full-page ads criticizing union leaders in major newspapers and commercials on cable news stations. In the past, Mr. Berman has faced criticism for running controversial lobbying campaigns on behalf of food manufacturers, the tobacco industry and the alcoholic beverage industry.

He has refused to say exactly who donates money to the Center for Union Facts, saying only that it is funded by foundations, businesses, union members and the general public.

"This ad basically is coming from an outfit formed by big business to stop working people's gains through unions," said Ms. Windham. "It's filled with bogus charges and frankly, a disservice to Pittsburgh television."

NBC affiliates in Boston, Indianapolis, South Bend, Ind., and Champagne, Ill., have refused to run the Union Facts commercial.

"We believe that the spot is designed to be inflammatory, incendiary and panders to the lowest common denominator stereotypes about unions and union officials," said Richard Pegram, president and general manager of WTHR in Indianapolis. "We have a union here at our television station that I don't think exhibits any of the qualities mentioned in that spot."

The general manager of WPXI was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Clark, at Penn State, questioned whether discrimination and corruption in unions were really some of the most serious problems facing American workers, calling the issues raised by the commercials "straw men."

He also noted that the ads were coming after years of declines in union membership. "It may be that opponents of the labor movement see the labor movement as vulnerable," he said. "The hyena has gone after the wounded buffalo."

This is an image from a commercial criticizing union leaders. The ad was sponsored by the Center for Union Facts, a pro-business group.

Anya Sostek can be reached at 412-263-1308 or .


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