Karl Rove's secretly-funded Crossroads GPS is spending $750,000 airing a terribly misleading ad attacking public-sector labor unions. With support declining for the GOP's anti-union stance, Rove's group is looking towards the 2012 elections and aiming to counteract that slide by unfairly demonizing unions.
The ad also attempts to lay the blame on President Obama, directing viewers to tell Obama "You've had enough." The group spent at least $17 million in the 2010 midterm elections, and along with Rove's American Crossroads PAC, is planning to spend $120 million in the 2012 elections. Here is what the ad says, and why it is wrong:
"Why are Democrats shutting down state capitols to protect a system that pays unionized government workers 42% more than non-union workers?"
False. As The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, an Economic Policy Institute report finds that, when controlling for education and taking benefits into account, "full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are undercompensated by 8.2% compared with otherwise similar private sector workers." In other words, it is unfair to compare compensation for an unskilled worker with a teacher who holds a master's degree. *
"A system that collects hundreds of millions in mandatory dues to back liberals who support government unions..."
False. See the U.S. Supreme Court decision Communication Workers of America v. Beck, 487 U. S. 735 (1988): nonunion employees cannot be required to pay dues to support political activities. In a unionized workplace, employees who choose not to join the union still reap the benefits of union representatives bargaining on their behalf, but they can only be required to pay dues towards that representation.
"One union boss explains..." the ad says, quoting from a July 2009 speech by National Education Association General Counsel Bob Chanin that, taken out of context, makes unions sound like money-sucking power-hogs.
False -- through misleading editing. Chanin's full quote is actually a reminder to teachers that their interests and those of their students will not be guaranteed by the dignity of the profession, or their passion for teaching:
So the bad news, or depending on your point of view, the good news, is that NEA and its affiliates will continue to be attacked by conservative and right-wing groups as long as we continue to be effective advocates for public education, for education employees, and for human and civil rights. And that brings me to my final and most important point. Which is why, at least in my opinion, NEA and its affiliates are such effective advocates. Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.
In light of the present attack on educators and other public employees by the likes of Scott Walker and Karl Rove, Chanin was correct. The integrity of public education is not being protected by good ideas, sacrifices by teachers, or by widespread recognition that education is an investment in the future. The primary defenders of public education and public educators are unions.
The same goes for unions defending the integrity of other public services against right-wing attacks. The real motivation for Rove, Walker, and the like is to crush union political power. Wisconsin's Senate majority leader has boasted about this partisan political strategy today. And in our post-Citizens United world, the only counterweight looking out for middle-class interests are labor unions. Only labor unions are powerful enough to attempt to counterbalance corporate interests and speak on behalf of working people in the election process. Despite losing one battle today, the fight to protect America's middle class and working people has only just begun.
*Update March 11: While the ad's claim that unionized public employees are paid 42% more than non-union workers came from a March 2010 study by the libertarian Cato Institute think tank, the discrepancy with the EPI report was not the result of biased calculations, but from Crossroads GPS completely twisting Cato's findings. The Cato study's author has denounced the ad's distortion of its findings, and Greg Sargent at the Washington Post writes "Crossroads GPS's willingness to use data supplied by a fiscally conservative think tank in a way that even the study's pro-free market author finds objectionable tells you all you need to know about the lengths some conservatives will go to in order to turn public opinion in this fight to their advantage."