New Orleans A full-page ad in the New York Times is expensive. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars. You have to be a big company with a bloated advertising budget or deep enough pockets that makes you believe it’s worth the climb to get your message out. A front section ad on page 8 of the Monday morning paper was hard for me to miss, with the headline: “Union Organizing with an Extra Shot of Hypocrisy”. This was an attack ad on Workers United, the big local union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. There was a paper coffee cup in dead center with a box checked “hypocrisy” modeled on a Starbucks takeaway. The logo on the bottom of the ad was a twisted version of Workers United’s own logo for the Starbucks organizing campaign. My first thought was, “Wow! Why would Starbucks go public to attack the union? How stupid!” Looking more closely, my first knee-jerk reaction may have been what was intended, but I was dead wrong. This was another Richard Berman scam, trying to promote his anti-all things progressive by making Workers United’s successful organizing drives at Starbucks a dogpile.
The clues weren’t hard to find, but you have to be at least interested enough to search past the hook shaming progressive support of the union because of its relationship with Amalgamated Bank. The ad came from WorkersUniteFacts.com. Hit that link, and there’s a website that basically zings Amalgamated Bank’s claims to be a climate friendly, progressive ESG investor, because they own a pile of securities in fossil fuels, tobacco, private prisons and ear gas manufacturers totally about $750 million. Amalgamated is the bank created many years ago by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a predecessor union, through many different mergers and affiliations to Workers United. In a messy jurisdictional and organizational dispute, involving UNITE/HERE, part of the union stayed with the hotel workers union and the other pieces ended up with SEIU. Workers United maintained a 40% stake in the bank once all the shouting ended, with board seats and effective control.
The Center for Union Facts, which paid for the ad, and which owns the domain is one of many nonprofit hater vehicles for right-wing adman, Richard Berman. None of that is disclosed on the ad or the site, until you hit the center link. Wikipedia describes Berman pretty well:
American lawyer, public relations executive, and former lobbyist. Through his public affairs firm, Berman and Company, he runs several industry-funded non-profit organizations such as the Center for Consumer Freedom, the Center for Union Facts, and the Employment Policies Institute. As of May 2009, Berman was the sole owner and executive director of Berman and Company, a for-profit management firm that ran fifteen corporate-funded groups, including the Center for Consumer Freedom. He has held at least sixteen positions within these interlocking organizations. As of 2010, just six of these nonprofits provided as much as 70% of Berman and Company’s revenue. Bloomberg News reported that from 2008 to 2010, Berman and Company were paid $15 million from donations to his five nonprofit organizations.
In short, this guy is one evil dude. ACORN knows him well. His EPI, which we used to call the “bad EPI” to distinguish it from the good EPI, the Economic Policy Institute, was involved in constant attacks on ACORN’s living wage campaigns. They even had a rolling billboard harassing our national convention in Columbus, Ohio in 2006. We were featured in his attack ads in the 2008 campaign when he tried to smear Obama based on his connection to ACORN.
What’s his angle here? He doesn’t care about climate, that’s for sure. He can’t believe that unorganized Starbucks baristas are carefully reading the Times every day. His own investments probably closely track what he is calling “hypocrisy” in the Amalgamated Bank portfolio, so that’s not really his beef either. My guess is that the sole purpose of this ad is to serve as a fundraiser and business development pitch for his lineup of duplicitous tax-exempt nonprofit disinformation groups. There are a lot of union haters out there, so by insinuating himself into the Starbucks and Workers United disputes, he hopes to pretend that his anti-union work is still relevant and drive traffic to his mess. The problem for his hater appeal is that they may not care about the bank’s investments – in fact, they may be nodding and saying, hey, go Amalgamated, rather than yeah, Berman.
It’s slick and sneaky, so let’s hope none of it works.