NEW YORK: The tense labor negotiations between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Transport Workers Union that are holding the entire city in fear of a paralyzing transit strike were driven in no small part by a well-rehearsed flood of contrasting communications plans from the city, the union, and the MTA.
The union, TWU Local 100, has brought in local celebrity and public affairs specialist Ken Sunshine & Associates to help handle the media crush.
Sunshine staffer Jesse Derris, a former communications director for the John Kerry campaign in Maine, confirmed that the agency is working with the union, but refused to comment on its strategy.
Jim Gannon, director of communications for the national TWU, said that the national headquarters had provided the local chapter with money, training, and research support, but was not leading the way on communications.
"We've given them a quarter of a million dollars to help them with the PR campaign. Our negotiators are there," Gannon said. "[But] they have the resources for their own media people. ... The only Locals that [handle their own PR] are the ones that have the resources."
TWU Local 100 represents 38,000 active employees, mostly New York City public transportation workers.
The City of New York, while clearly against a strike, spent the bulk of its time spreading the word of an intricate "contingency plan" that included alternatives for getting around town in the event of a transportation shutdown.
The plan was rolled out in a mayoral press conference, accompanied by a lengthy five-page press release and four accompanying maps. The city also launched a website dedicated to the plan.
One city communications official said that officials also expected to see a surge in calls to 311, the city information line. The official said that neither the mayor's office nor the city's Office of Emergency Management was working with a PR firm on the issue.
"We're able to get coverage when we have something to talk to the public about," the official said.
Nick Kalm, a partner at Reputation Partners who has extensive labor relations experience, said the MTA must be sure to make its voice heard. "A lot of the...daily media tend to view the union point of view very sympathetically," he said. "Management...is always at a little bit of a disadvantage."
The MTA's media office did not return calls for this story.