Have Anti-Union Smear Ads Flopped? Here’s Why 78% of Public Favors Unions
Just as Karl Rove-style tactics didn’t work against Barack Obama’s campaign, union supporters see promising signs that the spate of negative TV and print ads from corporate front groups attacking the Employee Free Choice Act appear to be failing to sway the public. The main line of attack is that the proposed bill would supposedly take away the right to a secret ballot for workers; in fact, the bill amends the National Labor Relations Act to give workers the choice of whether to have a secret-ballot election or the majority sign-up approach for a union, also dubbed “card check” by some.
Art brings us a great article on those stupid anti-union adds running. I have to wonder if the Chamber of Commerce realized that the during the election, most of the policies and tactics used by Rove and his ilk actually was the cause of the support for the Democrats?
The latest good news for backers of the bill came with new polling released Thursday by Hart Research Associates that found 78 percent of the public favors legislation that would make it easier for workers to bargain with their employers. Unlike some skewed polls offered before the election by business critics of the legislation, Hart’s research, commissioned by the AFL-CIO, gave a fair description of its three key elements, as outlined in the memo available here, including majority sign-up. A striking 75% of the public favored the provision of the bill that “allows employees to have a union once a majority of employees in a workplace sign authorization cards indicating they want to form a union.”
A spokesperson for a Chamber of Commerce-backed organization, the Coalition for Workplace Democracy, told me, while justifying new misleading ads: “I would argue that because the legislation effectively takes away the secret ballot folks are having second thoughts about it,” she says of the bill’s progress in Congress, “and the sense of urgency has been pushed back.”
But I found in doing reporting for a new In These Times piece precisely the opposite:
In truth, the cratering economy has added a new urgency to pro-labor legislation and the strong public support for the measure shows that the false attacks aren’t working , union advocates, pollsters and most independent journalists contend. A New York Times editorial saying passage of the bill is urgently needed now to help raise wages has become the centerpiece of a new SEIU ad campaign. Alison Omens, an AFL-CIO spokesperson, observes, “Leaders in Congress and the public understand that without workers having the freedom to bargain collectively they can’t rebuild the middle class. There is broad support and understanding of the need for legislation to allow workers to have a better life,” especially since wages have been stagnant for at least a decade. At a briefing on the Hart polling on Thursday, the AFL-CIO’s legislative director, Bill Samuel, added that the anti-Free Choice ads “haven’t had much effect,” while contending that the more people “think about the economy,” the more support for the legislation grows.In fact, Esther Kaplan reinforces the importance of a strong labor movement to an economic and progressive recovery in an important new Nation article, “Can Labor Revive the American Dream?”
Some of her key points about what’s at stake in the Employee Free Choice Act:
But as the leading corporate lobbies recognize, the bill could have far-reaching effects. By reviving unions, it could push up wages, realigning the broken economy so that company profits are spread beyond CEOs. It could help rein in corporate power and, perhaps most threatening to a business community that has enjoyed decades of deregulation, sustain a progressive majority in Washington in the years to come. If progressives aren’t doing the math, conservatives are. “Unions don’t spend money to elect Republicans,” Senator John Ensign told a group of executives this past fall. “They spend money to elect Democrats. From our perspective, this would have devastating consequences.”
Despite some ambivalence from the Obama team during the transition about pushing for the bill there are signs that the tide is turning towards strong and early action, if not necessarily in the first month:
Union strategists are confident they’ll be able to reach the 60 votes needed to break any GOP filibuster, by holding all Democrats and adding Sen. Arlen Specter, a past supporter of the bill. And now veteran political reporters are finding a new determination among Democratic leaders and the incoming Obama administration to press for the bill. In a tough-minded piece for Porfolio, Matthew Cooper writes, “Transition officials were divided on how aggressively and quickly Obama should move on the bill, but sources close to the campaign tell me he will push ahead.”
It’s small wonder that union advocates were so cheered by the new polling. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney proclaimed Thursday when the new polling numbers were released: “In today’s economic squeeze, workers need the freedom to bargain their way into the middle class more than ever. This new research confirms that the vast majority of Americans support workers’ freedom to form unions to improve their lives and support the Employee Free Choice Act, which is key to making our economy work for everyone.” It still remains to be seen whether the union movement and its progressive allies can rally enough support to overcome the corporate smear ads and spur Congress to pass the legislation, but so far, with widespread public backing for the bill and the new Congress already taking up fair pay for women legislation this week, the signs are strikingly positive.