This week's Rogue employs a variation on a time-honored election strategy, creating a political action group that tries to mislead voters, in part by pretending to be an aggrieved grass-roots movement.
Last Thursday, May 22, a roguish outfit calling itself the Employee Freedom Action Committee ran full-page ads as part of that "AstroTurf" strategy in The Oregonian and Eugene Register-Guard to begin the post-election assault on Jeff Merkley, who two days earlier won the Democratic contest to challenge U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).
Here's the ad copy:
"Jeff Merkley won the Democratic primary Tuesday through a mailed private ballot by Oregon citizens. Yet he supports eliminating the right to a private vote when unions are enlisting new members…tell Merkley to support true democracy."
The ad refers to a 2007 Oregon law that lets employees rather than management decide how to vote to form a union. A more comprehensive federal version of that law is pending.
Washington, D.C.-based Employee Freedom is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means it does not need to disclose its funding sources. The group is headquartered in the office of D.C. lobbyist Richard Berman, who has a history of setting up AstroTurf groups for the tobacco and booze industries, as well as anti-union employers.
Gordon Lafer, a University of Oregon associate professor who studies union elections, calls Employee Freedom's accusation a red herring.
"What they call 'private elections' are the kind of elections they had in the old East Germany," Lafer says. "Management can intimidate workers and create the conditions that our government refers to as 'sham elections' in other countries."
Lafer calls Employee Freedom hypocritical for claiming it wants "to protect the democratic rights of employees, when what they really want is to deny those rights."
Although Employee Freedom's ad lists a 503 phone number, Tim Miller, a spokesman for Employee Freedom, answered the phone in D.C. when the Rogue Desk called that number. He says his group will continue to fight what he calls "coercion" by unions trying to expand.