A Top Clinton Aide Draws Criticism From Unions
The presidents of two large labor unions have written to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to complain that Mark Penn, her pollster and chief strategist, is chief executive of a public relations firm that is helping a company fight a unionization drive.
In the letter sent Friday, which a labor official released yesterday, James P. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, and Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, wrote that they did not want to see Mrs. Clinton or the Democratic Party embarrassed by the anti-union activities of Mr. Penn's firm, Burson-Marsteller, one of the nation's leading public relations companies.
"If Hillary is pro-worker and pro-union, she will certainly take steps to rein in Mr. Penn," Mr. Hoffa said in an interview. "He cannot serve two masters, working for a pro-union candidate and working for anti-union companies."
In the letter, Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Raynor said, "It is with distress that we write you today," adding that they valued Mrs. Clinton's positions on many worker-related issues.
They said the public relations firm's "activities in the effort to undermine workers' right to organize at Cintas, a campaign our unions are involved in, is particularly disheartening." Four years ago, the two unions began a major drive to unionize 17,000 workers at the Cintas Corporation, the nation's largest uniform rental company. Cintas, helped by Burson-Marsteller, has responded with a vigorous - and thus far successful - effort to resist unionization.
Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Raynor, whose union represents apparel, hotel and restaurant workers, noted that they had learned of Burson-Marsteller's anti-union activities in an article last week in The Nation magazine. Their action comes as Mrs. Clinton prepares to speak at an A.F.L.-C.I.O. forum on Saturday in Detroit.
Mr. Penn did polling for Bill Clinton when he was president and has long been a top adviser to Mrs. Clinton. Thirty years ago, Mr. Penn founded a prominent polling firm, now known as Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates. In December 2005, he was named chief executive of Burson-Marsteller.
In interviews, Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Raynor stopped short of calling on Mrs. Clinton to disassociate herself from Mr. Penn.
Mr. Raynor said, "She ought to send a clear message to this guy Penn that she is unhappy about this union-busting stuff and that he shouldn't be associated with it."
Mr. Penn, speaking for himself and for the Clinton presidential campaign, said: "Senator Clinton's well-documented support for pro-union causes would not in any way be affected by some clients in a firm related to the corporate network of one of her advisers. There is no connection whatsoever with her pro-union record."
Mr. Penn said that he had worked for Democratic candidates for 30 years and that Burson-Marsteller worked for Democrats and Republicans.
As for Cintas, he said, "I personally had zero involvement in any of the work related to Cintas." He said Burson-Marsteller had begun representing Cintas well before he joined the firm.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company