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Mark Penn's Day Job

Huh, I wonder if any labor unions have a problem with the fact that Hillary Clinton's chief political strategist is the CEO of a firm that engages in union-busting. Here's a tidbit from Ari Berman's new Nation piece on Clinton's inner circle:

[Burson-Marsteller, where Mark Penn is CEO] has a highly confrontational relationship with organized labor. "Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labor's coordinated campaigns," read the "Labor Relations" section of its website (until it was scrubbed after Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect quoted the language in March). It consults frequently with George Washington University professor Jarol Manheim, author of The Death of a Thousand Cuts: Corporate Campaigns and the Attack on the Corporation and Biz-War and the Out-of-Power Elite: The Progressive-Left Attack on the Corporation. And it lends help to some of the most controversial union-busting efforts in America.

Back in 2003 two large unions, UNITE... and the Teamsters, launched a major drive to organize 32,000 garment workers and truck drivers at Cintas, the country's largest and most profitable uniform and laundry supply company... Despite posting $3.4 billion in sales and $327 million in profits last year, the company had a record of overcharging consumers, denying workers overtime pay, keeping unsafe working conditions (an employee in Tulsa died recently when caught in a 300-degree drier) and using any means necessary to block the union drive. Management fired employees under false pretenses, according to worker complaints documented by the unions; vowed to close plants; and screened anti-union videos. A plant manager in Vista, California, threatened to "kick driver-employees with his steel-toed boots," according to a complaint UNITE HERE filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

To put a soft face on its harsh tactics, Cintas hired Wade Gates, a top employee in B-M's Dallas office, as its chief spokesman. Gates coined Cintas's shrewd response to labor: "the right to say yes, the freedom to say no," which has been repeated endlessly in the press. In a speech at the USC Gould School of Law last year, Gates outlined Cintas's strategy, calling for an "aggressive defense against union tactics." Says Ahmer Qadeer, an organizer for UNITE HERE: "It's the Burson influence that's made Cintas much, much slicker than they were."

Charming! Now, granted, many of Burson-Marsteller's more notorious acts--representing the Argentine military junta, defending Union Carbide after the Bhopal disaster in India--happened long before Penn became CEO in 2005. But there's plenty of dirt left over: Among other things, B-M still runs the Foundation for Clean Air Progress, an industry front-group that was set up to pressure the EPA not to adopt stricter air pollution rules. Is this the sort of thing Penn's on board with? Clinton? Do tell.

--Bradford Plumer