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BART Unions’ Messaging War

A few weeks ago on this blog, FX (Crowley) wrote about the BART strike that was, and his perspective on the continued labor dispute. He concluded that the mainstream media has been overly biased toward BART management.

Since then, SEIU’s president announced that if BART’s approach to bargaining didn’t change, “they (the union) will be prepared for the bloodiest, longest strike since the 1970s.”

Ouch. What a perfect sound bite…for the opposition.

It’s short, it’s threatening and it’s angry. Exactly how BART wants to portray its unions to the general public.

Sound bites keep givingAnd it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve seen this sound bite show up on several media outlets.

Why the Unions are Frustrated and Angry

I am certain that SEIU’s President cares deeply about her members as well as the commuters they serve. It’s also clear that SEIU’s President is angry at BART Management and its Board of Directors.

They haven’t bargained in good faith. BART workers haven’t had a raise in five years. And serious safety issues have resulted in injuries and fatalities on the job.

In the meantime, BART’s General Manager has brought in a high-priced negotiator who has a reputation for busting unions while the BART Board has rewarded its General Manager with a $20,000 raise after just six months on the job.

The Media is Your Microphone

But when you’re talking to the media, you’re talking to everyone. The media is your microphone at a giant rally of the general public. Winning the public over to your side matters now and in the future.

If the public rallies to the unions’ side, the unions can bring more pressure to bear on BART negotiations.

Fighting Back

The unions have begun to right the ship. They have successfully cast BART’s chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, as the villain who callously took a week’s vacation in the middle of time-sensitive negotiations.

They should continue to focus on three simple, strong messages that set a more sympathetic tone and speak to their needs as well as the general public’s.

What Does the General Public Care About?

  1. They don’t want service interrupted. And neither do the unions. The unions agreed to stop the strike and continue to bargain even though BART management had not moved off its position.
  2. They (the public) want a safe, on-time commute, which is why the unions are negotiating for better safety protections…to help the commuter and the worker.
  3. The public doesn’t want to pay more fares or more taxes. BART recorded a multi-million dollar surplus due to record ridership and increased sales tax revenues. The unions have endured a wage freeze for five years. The unions’ requests are reasonable and fair.

What We Can Learn From the BART Labor Dispute

One of the keys to executing a successful media relations campaign is to balance and honor the public’s needs with yours in all your messaging. This can be especially tricky in a labor dispute, but it is a goal that we should always strive for.

When crafting messages, pay attention to word choice. Identify and use words or phrases that inspire support instead of fear, e.g. wage freeze instead of wage increase.

Keep it simple and straightforward. Practice your responses and then practice them again. Get someone to help you. You can’t expect to master your messages overnight. And above all, stay on message.

About the Author:  Nancy Hayden Crowley is the Chief Marketing Officer for the FX Crowley Company and has worked in public relations, marketing and media relations for more than three decades.


About the Author:
Nancy Hayden Crowley is the Chief Marketing Officer for the FX Crowley Company and the FX Crowley Family. Coincidence? I think not. Contact to learn more ››