A few weeks ago The Nation disclosed that Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, Mark Penn, leads a giant PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, that aggressively helps corporations stop union organizing drives. We cited the specific example of how B-M successfully assists the highly profitable and controversial uniform and laundry supply company Cintas in blocking union efforts to organize 20,000 of the company’s garment workers and truck drivers.
The article and subsequent follow-ups prompted a lot of unease in labor circles. Now the heads of the two unions leading the organizing drive at Cintas, Bruce Raynor of UNITE-HERE and James Hoffa of the Teamsters, have gone public with their concerns, writing a letter to Hillary, highlighted in the New York Times today, expressing their displeasure with Penn’s company and his role in her campaign. A copy of their signed letter is below:
Dear Senator Clinton:
It is with distress that we write you today. The Nation recently posted a story about Mark Penn, your pollster and chief strategist, detailing some of his firm’s direct support for anti-union/anti-worker campaigns. His firm’s activities in the effort to undermine workers right to organize at Cintas, a campaign our unions are involved in, is particularly disheartening.
We wanted to bring this to your attention since we value your positions on EFCA [Employee Free Choice Act] and many other workers issues and do not want to see you or the Democratic Party embarrassed.
We look forward to hearing back from you on this matter.
James P. HoffaTeamsters General President
Bruce S. RaynorUNITE HERE General President
A labor official told me that he expects Hillary to sit down with the two union heads and "placate us a little bit. But I don’t think she’ll cut Penn lose. He’s her Rove."
Penn may eventually be forced take a formal leave of absence from Burson-Marsteller, a step he has thus far resisted. That might erase the political liability Penn has become for Hillary’s campaign, but it hardly diminishes the underlying implications of his presence as her top strategist, the anti-union work Burson-Marsteller continues to do and the likelihood that if Hillary is elected Penn and his clients will greatly benefit, further blurring the distinction between the corporate and political world.
Perhaps in their private meeting Raynor and Hoffa will ask Senator Clinton why she elevated someone like Penn in the first place and chose to ignore his anti-labor ties.