That was too much to bear for the handmaidens of Big Labor. Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party swung into action. In a brazen attempt to shut down EFCA opponents, the DFL filed a complaint with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings lawsuit against the Coalition, a grassroots organization, two political consultants, the head of the Coalition Brian Worth and even Curatola himself.
The DFL claimed the ad was misleading in that EFCA would not abolish secret ballot elections but simply give unions and employees “another option.” The DFL contends therefore that Franken’s support for EFCA doesn’t amount to support for eliminating the secret ballot or opposition to workplace privacy. Left unsaid by the DFL: the “option” is for unions not employees, once the 50% threshold is reached no election is to be held and no union which is able to persuade at least a bare majority of workers would conceivably rely on less than 50% of authorization cards and risk a secret ballot election.
An administrative law judge in Minnesota dismissed the original complaint but an amended complaint was re-filed against the Coalition, Worth and longtime GOP guru Mike Murphy from the Coalition’s political consulting firm. At a subsequent hearing Murphy and Worth were dismissed but no decision has been rendered on the Coalition or on the underlying merits of the suit.
I asked Worth about the DFL’s unusual tactic of suing to shut down an ad. He said, “Frankly I’m not surprised. They can’t argue on the merits.” The press coverage of this extraordinary tactic has been minimal. Again, Worth says that it “is not remotely surprising. These are the guys who won’t report on John Edwards.” Worth says that the claim that the measure does not abolish secret ballot elections and that Franken doesn’t favor this move is belied by the language of the statute which he explains is “crystal clear.”
It is plain that DFL is telling tall tales. Even George McGovern understands what is up. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.
Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.
Rhonda Bentz, a political consultant who was dismissed from the original DFL complaint, says that neither she nor Murphy, a veteran of dozens of campaigns, have “ever been involved in anything like this.” She notes the irony that Al Franken, a “creative artist” would be involved in what can only be described as “censorship of political speech.” As for the ads, she surmises, “If they weren’t having an impact they would be ignoring them.” She explains, “They have a Sisyphean task in moving a boulder up the hill to say that secret ballots won’t be eliminated [by the EFCA].”
It seems unlikely that political free speech could be suffocated. But if Big Labor does somehow manage to prevail in its Minnesota suit it will be the ultimate proof that Big Labor isn’t interested in democracy — either in or outside the workplace.
And the battle over EFCA won’t end in Minnesota. An ad targeting Democratic Senate candidate Tom Allen has gone on the air in Maine. With got Senate races in New Hampshire and Colorado it is likely those will be battlegrounds as well. But the purpose Worth says is not to defeat select Democratic candidates but to force elected officials of both parties once the election is over to “go to their leadership and say ‘I saw what they did in Minnesota.’ I want to rethink this.”
Provided Big Labor doesn’t shut down the First Amendment rights of EFCA opponents in Minnesota, those catchy ads will continue to attract attention. But if Curatola ever decides to take a breather the Coalition could also hire McGovern to deliver his message to the voters and Big Labor:
To my friends supporting EFCA I say this: We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election. We are the party that has always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.
Could Big Labor shut down that message? Fuggetaboutit.