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"Free Choice" Commercials Stir Local Controversy

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 By John Robinson/Kevin Clay, Contact
August 12, 2008

Lowell, MA - Business groups have launched a TV advertising campaign against federal legislation that would simplify the process of joining a union. However, it's unclear who is behind the campaign, according to Mike Prokosch, with the UMASS-Lowell Labor Extension program.

"UNIONFACTS.COM, which is the umbrella group in Washington sponsoring the state affiliates that are running the ads, is a nonprofit, so they can shield the names of their donors. Therefore, we actually can't get at the source of the money."

The ads target the "Employee Free Choice Act," a bill that would have let workers form unions by signing a card rather than going through an election process. It failed in the U.S. Senate this year in a filibuster, but is sure to come up again next year.

Supporters say the bill's passage would be a boon to workers, while opponents claim it would expose workers to pressure from labor unions. In Prokosch's opinion, the ad campaign is packed with rhetoric and false charges.

"Everything that those ads charge unions with doing are things that employers are actually doing right now. They're basically holding a mirror up to themselves and then putting it into an ad, and claiming, 'Look what will happen if the unions get their way.'"

Prokosch charges that the ad campaign is part of opponents' efforts to elect enough U.S. Senators to block the Employee Free Choice Act when it is revived next year. He points out that the federal bill includes many protections already ensured by Massachusetts state law, but he believes Bay State workers would benefit from a stronger national labor movement.

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