Labor unions turn their attention to PR

WASHINGTON, DC: Unions are finally beginning to embrace the information age, with even the traditionally stodgy AFL-CIO conducting an online Labor Day Festival. But with membership levels still well below the peak in the mid-1990's, it is clear that unions must better utilize PR to rally internal and public support.

WASHINGTON, DC: Unions are finally beginning to embrace the information age, with even the traditionally stodgy AFL-CIO conducting an online Labor Day Festival. But with membership levels still well below the peak in the mid-1990's, it is clear that unions must better utilize PR to rally internal and public support.

WASHINGTON, DC: Unions are finally beginning to embrace the information age, with even the traditionally stodgy AFL-CIO conducting an online Labor Day Festival. But with membership levels still well below the peak in the mid-1990's, it is clear that unions must better utilize PR to rally internal and public support.

'I think that unions have started to understand that, like corporations, they must communicate not only to members but to the public at large,' said Tricom president Scott Tribetz, whose PR agency counts several unions among its clients.

Several prominent unions clearly understand how to play the PR game.

Jamie Horowitz, associate director of public affairs for The American Federation of Teachers, said his group has striven to generate news coverage in both the education and mainstream press. The AFT has also worked hard over the years to develop programs that address parental concerns about education.

Similarly, the Association of Flight Attendants has endeavored to assuage the public and its members during times of air-carrier strife, according to AFA communications director Jeff Zack.

Zack pointed to the AFA's 'CHAOS' (Create Havoc Around Our System) campaign, which informs potential fliers when labor problems may afflict an airline.

He also noted that his union shuns mass strikes, instead concentrating on selected routes.

Horowitz recalled a fairly recent battle with New York University, in which clerical workers represented by the AFT employed an e-mail and ad campaign that, with the school fearing the impact on its reputation, brought about a quick labor settlement.

'These days, we're almost as likely to negotiate a contract in the newspapers as over the bargaining table,' Horowitz explained. 'The pen is mightier than the sword.'



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