Political Correction

Ad Check: Crossroads GPS Uses Misleading Video Clips To Vilify Public Employee Unions

March 09, 2011 4:08 pm ET

The latest ad from Crossroads GPS — backed with $750,000 from the right-wing billionaires who fund Karl Rove's brainchild — smears public employee unions with out-of-context video clips and a statistic so misleading even the conservative scholar the ad cites to back it up condemns the ad as a misrepresentation of his work. With GOP efforts to bust public worker unions in Wisconsin seemingly on the ropes, this ad attempts to reframe the debate by painting union workers as violent, selfish, and overpaid shills of the Democratic Party. In the process, Crossroads GPS tells some whoppers.

Crossroads GPS: Public-Sector Unions Are Selfish, Seedy, And Dangerous

Why did a Democrat congressman say [Rep. Mike Capuano clip:] "You gotta get out in the streets and get a little bloody when necessary"? Why are Democrats shutting down state Capitols? To protect a system that pays unionized workers 42 percent more than non-union workers. A system that collects hundreds of millions in mandatory dues to back liberals who support government unions. [then-Sen. Obama clip:] "They knocked doors for me. They made phone calls for me. They turned out the vote for me." One union boss explains: [NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin clip:] "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—" Tell Obama, you've had enough.

Conservative Author Of Study Cited By Crossroads For "42 Percent" Pay Claim Says Ad "Misrepresents" His Work

Ad Cites Cato Institute Report "Public-Sector Unions." During the ad, as the narrator describes "a system that pays unionized workers 42 percent more than non-union workers," the following image appears:

[Crossroads GPS Ad via YouTube, accessed 3/9/11]

Cato Report: 42 Percent Statistic Does Not Reflect Differences Between State Labor Markets, And The Actual Impact Of Unionization Is Probably Closer To 10 Percent. From "Public-Sector Unions," by Cato's Chris Edwards: "However, part of this union-nonunion pay difference stems from general labor market variations across states. States with generally higher wages tend to be more unionized. Analyses that hold constant such cross-state differences find that public-sector unions increase average pay levels by roughly 10 percent." [Cato.org, "Public-Sector Unions," March 2010, emphasis added]

Report Author: Ad "Appears To Misrepresent The 42 Percent Statistic As If It Were Between Government And Private Workers." As reported by Greg Sargent of the Washington Post:

That's not all. Edwards points out that the ad rips the 42 percent figure out of context, further distorting what his study actually found in another way. The study did claim the 42 percent number, but it went on to state specifically that this difference can be partly explained by "general labor market variations across states," because "states with generally higher wages tend to be more unionized."

The study concluded that once you factor in that variable, public sector unions can be said to increase pay levels by approximately 10 percent -- not 42 percent, as the ad claimed.

"The ad misrepresents the gap between union and non-union government workers, and it appears to misrepresent the 42 percent statistic as if it were between government and private workers," Edwards told me. [Washington Post, 3/9/11, emphasis added]

Public Employees In Wisconsin Are Paid Less Than Private-Sector Counterparts With Similar Skills And Qualifications. From a study of employee compensation in Wisconsin by the Economic Policy Institute:

In Wisconsin, which has become a focal point in this debate, public servants already take a pretty hefty pay cut just for the opportunity to serve their communities (Keefe 2010).  The figure below shows that when comparing the total compensation (which includes non-wage benefits such as health care and pensions) of workers with similar education, public-sector workers consistently make less than their private-sector peers.  Workers with a bachelor's degree or more-which constitute nearly 60% of the state and local workforce in Wisconsin-are compensated between $20,000 less (if they just have a bachelor's degree) to over $82,000 a year less (if they have a professional degree, such as in law or medicine).

[EPI.org, 2/18/11, emphasis added]

Ad Cuts NEA Lawyer Off Mid-Thought: Teachers Pay Dues Because Union Membership Is Vital "To Achieve Our Vision Of A Great Public School For Every Child"

Full Chanin Remarks: Members Give Dues Money "Because They Believe That We Are The Unions That Can Most Effectively Represent Them." From NEA General Counsel Chanin's full remarks, with the portion Crossroads GPS put in its ad in bold:

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.

This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality, and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary, these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay. [Chanin Speech via YouTube, 7/6/09]

Chanin Went On To Say That Union "Power Will In Turn Enable Us To Achieve Our Vision Of A Great Public School For Every Child." From NEA General Counsel Chanin's full remarks: "When all is said and done, NEA and its affiliates must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions, and what unions do first and foremost is represent their members. If we do that. If we do that and if we do it well, the rest will fall into place. NEA and its affiliates will remain powerful and that power will in turn enable us to achieve our vision of a great public school for every child." [Chanin Speech via YouTube, 7/6/09]

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