Chrysler's social-media site helps to drive comms in wake of strike

AUBURN HILLS, MI: Chrysler turned much of its attention to a recently launched social-media site as a means to educate its employees, media, and the public during a six-hour United Auto Workers (UAW) strike involving some 40,000 employees.

AUBURN HILLS, MI: Chrysler turned much of its attention to a recently launched social-media site as a means to educate its employees, media, and the public during a six-hour United Auto Workers (UAW) strike involving some 40,000 employees.

The strike, the first at Chrysler since 1985, took place last Wednesday and was reportedly over labor outsourcing and health benefit issues.

Allan Nahajewski, senior manager of Chrysler internal and electronic communications, said a major component of the company's efforts was Chryslerlabortalks07.com, which launched July 20. The concept for the site was created internally, but Icon Creative Technologies in Ann Arbor, MI, helped implement and manage it.

Chryslerlabortalks07.com features video and audio interviews with the company's top labor and manufacturing executives discussing healthcare, manufacturing, and labor costs.

Ed Garsten, manager of electronic communications at Chrysler, said the site serves three audiences. "It's a tool that allows journalists and employees to quickly get information on the company and updates on the talks," he said. "And it allows the public to understand the issues that are involved in the talks and also keep up on the progress."

During the strike, the site was updated with information on the walkout, followed by the announcement that a tentative agreement had been reached, and a statement from Chrysler's vice chairman and president Tom LaSorda. "When the contract is ratified, we will put information regarding that up, as well," Garsten said.

Nahajewski added that the automaker also used e-mails, updates on its intranet site Scoop, and its daily newsletter Employee News Daily to keep internal parties in the loop. He said most internal efforts were handled in-house.

After the workers went on strike, "a midafternoon e-mail was sent to Auburn Hills employees [with] information on how the strike would affect services, such as housekeeping, internal mail, shipping, and receiving," Nahajewski noted.

A tentative agreement was reached just six hours after workers took to the picket lines at 11am. An e-mail was sent to all employees from LaSorda announcing the agreement.

Chrysler then ran "report back to work" radio spots for third-shift employees that ran from 7pm to midnight on news station WWJR. The information was also available on the company's Web site.

Externally, the UAW's communications dictated Chrysler's response. Michele Tinson, manufacturing and labor communications manager at Chrysler, was leading the company's external communications. She said Chrysler couldn't confirm anything on the record to media until the UAW did so first.

"On our side, we were unable to confirm that, in fact, we were having a strike," Tinson said. "We did not have official notification from the UAW to confirm that. So we would go on background and tell journalists, 'Yes, we do have folks exiting the facility at this point.'"

Chrysler's communications team handled thousands of calls that day from local and national print, TV, Web-based, and radio outlets, Tinson said. External efforts were also handled without the assistance of an agency.

She said other media efforts included an e-mail push to bloggers and proactively correcting any "inaccuracies as best we could."

Once the tentative agreement was reached and the UAW issued a statement, Tinson followed suit with Chrysler's official statement. There was no press conference announcing the agreement.

"Since we couldn't necessarily comment without having official notice from the UAW, our lead with regard to communications was solely awaiting for direction from them," she explained. "Once we received that direction, we were able to deploy our processes."

Chrysler tapped a number of its communications divisions to assemble a team to handle the day's efforts. Members of its business communications, electronic communications, internal and manufacturing/labor, and news monitoring teams all played a role.

Similar to General Motors, Chrysler has spent a great deal of time educating its employees about the industry's competitive landscape. Garsten and Nahajewski said they believe that played a role in keeping things calm during the negotiations.

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