The Fact Checker: Labor

A nonsense fact in a Super Bowl ad

“Only ten percent of people in unions today actually voted to join the union.”

— Voiceover from an ad sponsored by the Center for Union Facts which aired during the Super Bowl


 A group that supports a bill in Congress that would require every unionized workplace to recertify their union every three years made this interesting claim in a TV ad that ran during the Super Bowl. The Center for Union Facts also asserted this fact in an advertisement that ran in The New York Times, featuring the dictatorial leadership of North Korea as apparent stand-ins for union leaders.

 The Center for Union Facts is part of a web of pro-corporate organizations run by Rick Berman, who has also battled Mothers Against Drunk Driving, disputed evidence regarding mercury levels in fish and countered a perceived link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. His Web Site features a 60 Minutes profile in which he says, “I do get paid for educating people; if that’s my biggest crime, I stand accused.”  (A more negative take on the Berman enterprise can be found here.)

 A key feature of Berman’s ads are wicked, often sarcastic humor against “union bosses,” “food police” and the like. In this particular ad, auto mechanics bemoan their lost wages to union dues and ask each other who voted for the union. They ultimately conclude it must be the oldest guy in the shop. (One report on Monday said Berman actually portrays one of the “mechanics” in the ad.)

 We take no position on the Employee Rights Act, but wondered whether this statistic was valid, especially since Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has also cited it on the Senate floor in support of the legislation.


The Facts

 J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts (and a player in other Berman-run groups), said he personally calculated this statistic by examining National Labor Relations Board annual reports from 1964 (specifically Table 14) and job tenure data for unionized employees from the Current Population Survey, which is jointly sponsored by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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