UAW ups social media efforts before FCA deal voting

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

As union leaders take a new tentative deal between the United Auto Workers and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to 40,000 members ahead of voting next week, they will do so with increased support from social media.

After 65 percent of the membership turned down a first tentative agreement last month, the union launched a comprehensive social-media blitz with the help of BerlinRosen, a New York-based public relations firm that the union was working with on an unrelated matter before negotiations.

The new messaging started days after the first deal was overwhelmingly rejected, and included messages from UAW leaders on Oct. 5 about the union being more communicative with its membership during the new round of negotiations.

“We heard from UAW FCA members that they wanted the union to provide regular updates and detailed information about the tentative agreement, and we are responding by increasing our communications with members, especially on social media,” UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said in a statement Monday. “We are making regular updates on our website and Facebook page, and local leaders across the country are beginning to hold informational sessions in plants so that members can fully understand what is — and isn’t — in the new tentative agreement.”

Messaging has ranged from strike preparation before the new deal was reached Oct. 7 to clear, to-the-point updates several times a day about the new proposed deal. The hash tag “#uawunited” is intended to promote solidarity.

Rothenberg said the union has had a “long relationship” with experts like BerlinRosen. He declined to comment on the cost of the social media strategy. The company did not immediately respond for comment.

The union paid BerlinRosen about $115,500 for consulting services in 2014, according to public documents filed by the union. It last year also spent $129,960 with PadillacCRT, a Richmond, Virginia-based company. The firm provided media relations and media support to the UAW.

Social media was one of numerous reasons industry insiders said the first deal failed. UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell told The Detroit News prior to a Sept. 27 informational meeting in Toledo that some members were coming in with incorrect preconceived notions from postings on the Internet.

Don Tanner, partner of Farmington Hills-based public relations firm Tanner-Friedman, said organizations have to control their messaging on social media. If they don’t, others — who might be relaying incorrect information — will do it for them.

“It just goes to show you that social media cannot be discounted no matter the industry or the issues,” he said during a recent interview. “It’s always important to utilize all of your communication platforms and be consistent in your messages.”

The shortened voting schedule is different from the first time around, when locals separately voted over a week and a half. Locals unions are scheduled to vote on the new deal Oct. 20 and Oct. 21, the union announced Monday. The two new voting dates were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Voting will follow informational meetings led by local union leaders, according to UAW President Dennis Williams. That’s a change from traditional union procedures — and a change from the first round, when UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell led the effort at numerous meetings. Many of those meetings between the international union and workers were characterized as contentious by those attending.

The voting schedule is in line with comments made by Williams about giving members more time to review the contract. “They’re going to go at it in a thoughtful matter, where everybody gets a chance to view this agreement and everybody gets their questions answered,” Williams told reporters Friday.

Not giving workers enough time to review the deal ahead of voting was one of two “missteps” Williams said leadership made when attempting to ratify the first deal that the union will not make again. Not having a “clear path” for entry-level workers to reach the same pay as traditional workers was the other misstep, which the contract addresses with a new wage system.

Under the new agreement, second-tier workers would be boosted in steps over eight years to about $29 an hour or more, depending on the job — the same as veteran first-tier workers. The $30 rate is an increase from $25.35 under the rejected contract, and is $10 more than their current ceiling of $19.28 an hour.

Tier-one employees would receive a $4,000 up-front lump-sum bonus, two 3 percent general wage increases and two 4 percent lump sum bonuses. Bonuses and wage increases combined would generate gains of $20,000 for a typical production worker over the course of the four-year contract.

A proposed health care co-op in the failed deal — which had been touted as a way to save costs by pooling all workers at the three Detroit automakers — was deleted from new pact.

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Staff writer Melissa Burden contributed