ACLU Offers Rebuttal to Mark Ames Article About Human Rights Groups and Labor Unions

In "As Labor Struggles, Have the Big Rights and Liberties Groups Like the ACLU Deserted Unions?" Mark Ames faults the ACLU for having abandoned workers and unions. The facts show otherwise. Here are just a few illustrative examples.

On June 27, we sued the superintendent of the Puerto Rico police, on behalf of a local union, whose members were beaten and abused during peaceful demonstrations over cutbacks at a public university.

We are currently involved in one of the largest labor trafficking cases in U.S. history. Along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Louisiana Justice Institute, we represent a group of over 400 men from India who were brought to the U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and subjected to forced labor, racial discrimination and other abuses. By helping them, we are also aiding the cause of organized labor by making it more difficult for employers to exploit vulnerable workers, and forego the need to engage in collective bargaining or provide a fair wage.

Similarly, in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, we filed a friend-of-the court brief supporting the rights of an undocumented worker who sued for back pay after being fired for union organizing. When the Supreme Court ruled against the worker, by a 5-4 vote, we joined with the National Employment Law Project and the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School to file a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the United Mine Workers and the AFL-CIO, among others, arguing that the U.S. had violated its legal obligations by failing to protect millions of undocumented workers from exploitation and discrimination in the workplace. Last summer, the Commission ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case.

Ames seeks to explain the ACLU’s supposed disregard of union rights by repeating a claim that the ACLU accepted a $20 million donation from Charles and David Koch. The ACLU protects the names of its donors and members as a longstanding matter of organizational policy. Had Ames contacted us, however, we would have urged him to check with the Koch brothers about whether the report of the donation was accurate. Instead, he cited a 2011 article from Reason, which links to something called New York Social Diary, which has a brief reference to this alleged donation, and to Faces of Philanthropy, which notes the $10 million David Koch purportedly gave. As the Reason article correctly notes, both the sources are “secondhand.”

Having invoked the Koch brothers, Ames then accuses the ACLU of having abandoned the “left” in favor of “libertarianism.” The ACLU does not operate on the basis of labels. It was founded on the principle that an attack on anyone’s civil liberties is an attack on everyone’s civil liberties. That means we represent clients on both the left and the right when their civil liberties are threatened. As a result, our positions have been both embraced—and scorned—across the political spectrum.

That has certainly been the case with the ACLU stance on Citizens United, which Ames also cites. He neglects to mention, however, that the law struck down in that case applied to labor unions as well as corporations.

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