NY Times cited lobbyist Berman without mentioning industry tiesMarch 15, 2006 11:13 AM EST ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER
A March 11 New York Times article by Steven Greenhouse documented a recent rift between employers and labor unions over a unionizing method that uses "card checks" instead of secret ballot elections. The card check process is a method "in which companies grant union recognition once a majority of workers sign cards saying they favor the union." Unions increasingly want to use this procedure to replace the traditional organizing method: secret-ballot elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that, according to union officials, allow anti-union employers to more easily intimidate workers into shying away from voting for union representation.
In presenting the case against the use of card checks, Greenhouse included comments from Richard Berman, founder and executive director of a newly formed anti-union organization, the Center for Union Facts (CUF). However, despite his own previous reporting on Berman and the CUF, Greenhouse did not mention, as he did in a February 14 article, Berman's history of lobbying for the restaurant and beverage industry or his support for and involvement in controversial campaigns, including ones that aim to dismiss concerns regarding mercury in fish, downplay the negative effects of obesity, and oppose a push by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for stricter laws against drunk driving. Berman is also the executive director, according to The Washington Post, "of the Center for Consumer Freedom [CCF], a decade-old group founded with tobacco money and restaurant money to fight smoking curbs in restaurants."
According to a March 13 column by The Washington Post's Al Kamen, the U.S. Department of Labor, which "had been seen as basically in lock step with organized labor's views on employment issues such as workplace safety, wages and benefits," now seems to be promoting the CUF. Kamen wrote that Lynn Gibson, the former director of the Young Leaders Program at the conservative Heritage Foundation and now the Department of Labor's public liaison, wrote an email alerting recipients to the "noteworthy" website recently launched by the anti-union group. "The website," Gibson wrote, "is dedicated to providing information on labor unions and their expenditures. UnionFacts.com launched on Monday, February 13th, and some news links are listed below."
In the lead paragraph of his March 11 article, Greenhouse wrote that the ad campaign launched by the CUF in February compared Bruce S. Raynor, president of the union, Unite Here, to Cuban president Fidel Castro and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. While Greenhouse did refer to the CUF as a "business-backed group," he reported Berman's comments regarding card checks without providing any clue into Berman's background as a lobbyist:
"Under the National Labor Relations Act, the election process in the United States has turned into a meat grinder for workers," he [Raynor] said. "Each year 20,000 workers are fired or retaliated against for supporting a union." With unions pushing ever harder for card checks, Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, the group that ran the advertisement, said the time was right for business to mount an offensive against them.
"The fact is unions now say that as a general rule they don't want N.L.R.B. elections," Mr. Berman said.
By contrast, in his February 14 article on the CUF, Greenhouse included Berman's long history as a lobbyist and his role in several controversial campaigns:
Mr. Berman runs a public affairs firm in Washington and helped to create the American Beverage Institute and the Employment Policies Institute, which has helped the restaurant industry fight increases in the minimum wage.
He has faced criticism in recent years for arguing on behalf of his clients that drinking a lot of soda does not contribute to diabetes and that Americans have been "force-fed a steady diet of obesity myths by the 'food police,' trial lawyers, and even our own government." Mr. Berman was also criticized for fighting a push by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to tighten rules on alcohol limits for drivers.
"We do take edgy positions and they're all very legitimate," Mr. Berman said yesterday.