A former covert CIA agent has come in from the cold to do overt public relations work aimed at getting state legislatures to pass an anti-union law President Reagan once fought but now likes.
Max Hugel was deputy director of Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1980 and later was appointed by then-CIA Director William J. Casey to head the agency’s covert operations branch. Hugel has joined the drive to get more states to enact “right-to-work” laws that are almost as controversial as some of Reagan’s other pet conservative causes.
Hugel and other friends and former appointees of the President are in the Washington-based public relations firm of Carmen, Carmen & Hugel, a major player in the “right-to-work” campaigns.
Also joining that effort by members of the Reagan circle are former Screen Actors Guild presidents Charlton Heston and John Gavin. Until recently, Gavin was the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
Heston is not doing his campaigning at the behest of Reagan. But his intensified “right-to-work” effort, like Gavin’s, is certainly in line with Reagan’s current philosophy about unions. And the burst of optimism among these advocates stems in part from the boost that the President has given to so many other conservative issues.
The guild recently censured Heston officially for campaigning for a law in Idaho and New Mexico because that union, like all others, knows that “right-to-work” laws weaken unionism. The guild has also officially criticized Reagan’s stand on labor issues.
While Reagan has not publicly called for “right-to-work” laws during his presidency, he has blessed them previously.
Just before his 1980 election, for instance, he said workers would support such laws because the nation’s union leadership “has removed itself too far from (workers) and is no longer representing their interests.”
David Carmen, president of the public relations firm, has said, “I think there is no question that President Reagan supports right-to-work, but politically, it’s a hot potato.”
Reagan’s position is far different from the stand he took as vice president of the actors’ union in 1958.
“Right-to-work” proponents then were gathering signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Reagan and other top guild officers signed a letter urging members: “Don’t sign it.”
The letter charged that “this compulsory open shop proposition can wreck your guild and rob you of your professional benefits.”
The next big drive of the “right-to-workers” is coming in New Mexico. And they may try again to get a law adopted in California even though in 1958, with Reagan’s help, a similar proposal was rejected by the massive margin of a million votes.
In November, Idaho became the 21st state to adopt a “right-to-work” law. The law isn’t complex. Even with it, if a majority of workers in a factory or office vote to be represented by a union, management and the union must try to reach a contract agreement.
But that contract cannot contain a union shop clause in “right-to-work” states. Such a clause would require all workers in the bargaining unit to join the union or pay a fee to help pay for the union’s cost of negotiating a contract and processing all of its workers’ grievances against management.
The logic of the union shop provision is that, under federal law, all benefits of a contract, including those resulting from grievance processing, must go to both union and non-union members alike, so all should help pay the costs of negotiating those benefits.
The role of Carmen, Carmen & Hugel in the stepped-up “right-to-work” drive, and the firm’s relationship with the President, was first disclosed by David Robb, reporter for the entertainment industry magazine Daily Variety.
Robb’s story correctly reported that the firm was hired by the National Right to Work Committee to help in the Idaho campaign. It is now working for the one in New Mexico. David Carmen, commenting on the Idaho success, said: “Maybe California won’t be far behind.”
The links between the President and the public relations firm are extensive.
After helping direct Reagan’s 1980 campaign, Hugel was chosen by the President to be chief of the Small Business Administration. Later, Hugel was recruited to head CIA covert operations by Casey, who was Reagan’s 1980 campaign director when Hugel was deputy.
Hugel, now a partner in the public relations firm, left the CIA after a Washington Post story reported that two former stockbrokers had accused him of taking part in a stock fraud. He later won a libel suit against his accusers, but did not return to the CIA.
Another partner in the firm is Gerald Carmen, David’s father and a former U.S. ambassador to United Nations agencies in Geneva. In 1981, he was named by Reagan to head the General Services Administration.
A vice president of the firm, Bill Wilson, is a longtime Reagan supporter and a former officer of the National Right to Work Committee.
The new campaigns for “right-to-work” laws might, their advocates hope, improve their prospects. The National Right to Work Committee was created 30 years ago and has spent well over $100 million, but only four states have passed such laws.
A “right-to-work” law in California would be a major coup for the committee, but the prospects are slim. It has been nearly 30 years since California so overwhelmingly defeated the measure, but that vote must have been in the mind of conservative Gov. George Deukmejian when he said last month that he opposes such a law.
Still, California is already involved in the battle in a limited way, through the Screen Actors Guild.
The guild’s censure of Heston for joining the campaigns for “right-to-work” laws in Idaho and New Mexico has created more dissension in the union. Heston, an active union member and a frequent critic of its leadership, charges that the censure is an unfair punishment that could hurt him within the industry and is an “overt attempt” to stifle dissent in the union.
Heston’s membership in the union was not affected by the censure, and the action would go almost unnoticed in most unions. But his fame as an actor and his relationship with Reagan increase the effect of his campaign for “right-to-work” laws.
Since there is no doubt that such laws weaken unions, the guild’s members and officers certainly acted properly in plainly telling the public, by the censure vote, that Heston’s view is not that of his union. But the censure has not deterred the famous actor, nor the others supporting the laws.
SAG Seeking Dues Rise
The Screen Actors Guild board of directors is seeking a dues increase to deal with a projected $2.8-million-a-year deficit caused in part, ironically, by a significant membership increase and also by “right-to-work” laws in states where film production is on the rise.
The proposed hike, only the eighth since the union was founded 54 years ago, is subject to membership approval. It is strongly opposed by Actors Working for An Actors’ Guild (AWAG), whose supporters include Charlton Heston. The dissident faction has complained that union leaders have “recklessly and wantonly squandered our dues money.”
A spokesman says SAG membership is up from 52,000 in 1980 to 67,000 now. About 80% of the members make less than $2,000 a year from acting, and fewer than 1% make over $100,000. But the increased membership isn’t bringing in enough extra dues to pay for the cost of servicing the new members, he said.
Under the proposal, dues would go up from $75 to $85 annually for the vast majority of the members. Dues for actors who make over $150,000 would go from $1,150 to $2,260.
About 90% of the guild’s projected $14-million budget for 1987 pays for offices and 250 staffers who negotiate contracts, enforce them, file and pursue grievances, and also collect millions of dollars a year in residual fees for actors when their filmed performances are reshown.
Another budget problem for the union is the cost of processing claims for money or jobs for actors who are not required to join the guild or pay a fee for such services. This service is mandated by federal law for actors working in “right-to-work” states where union shop contracts are outlawed.
In Arizona, for instance, the guild says 50% of the claims it processes each year are for actors who refuse to join the union. In Texas, where the ratio is about the same, the non-union actors’ grievances cost the guild more than $100,000 last year.