Fight Over Union Rights Enters Super Bowl Huddle

With Super Bowl ad, group elevates fight over union organizing rights.

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One political organization refrained from keeping their political message on the sidelines during this year's Super Bowl.

In addition to Michigan Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra's controversial campaign ad, some football watchers also saw the fight over union rights elevated to the national stage Sunday. A TV ad aired during the game blasted unions for spending their dues on political candidates, and pressed for the passage of the Employee Rights Act, a bill which would scale back union power across the country.

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The ad only ran in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and is part of a $10 million campaign from the Center for Union Facts, an advocacy group which has blasted the major labor unions in the past, including one ad which compared union leadership to Kim Jong Il.

The ad campaign comes at a time when state-level campaigns to reform—or roll back, depending on who you ask—union rights are picking up full steam. Two weeks ago, Indiana became the first "right to work" Rust Belt state, allowing employees to opt out of union membership and avoid paying dues, even if their company is unionized. That fight was only the latest in several state skirmishes across the country over the organizing rights of workers, both within and outside of government. But so far, that fight has stayed limited on the national level, with most of the ideological fights focused the National Labor Relations Board.

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While conservatives have long pushed for a national right-to-work law, the Employee Rights Act falls short of that goal. However, it would put significant restrictions on current labor activities, and would also require unions to re-certify with their members every three years. It would also require unions to receive "opt-in" permission from their members to use their dues for political campaigning, rather than the current "opt-out" method.

The bill was introduced by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch from Utah—a right-to-work state—but has mostly been gathering dust in a Senate controlled by Democrats. Even officials with the Center for Union Facts admit that there is no legislative push to correspond with their ad campaign.

"It's certainly an uphill battle," says Matthew Harakal, a spokesman for Hatch. Harakal said that the senator was looking to attach pieces of the bill to other legislation. If Republicans win big in November, supporters of the bill are expecting it to rise to the top of the national agenda.

Twitter: @AlexParkerDC