In A Strike, The Only PR That Matters

Strike duty is tough PR duty.

We know. We’ve been there. The first big adversity project Don and I worked on together was when airline pilots went on a global strike more than 20 years ago.

Right now, both the United Auto Workers and General Motors are working overtly and covertly to get messages out, now that UAW members have been on strike for more than two days. There are rallying cries, emotional appeals and rational business points of view. But do any of them really matter?

The challenge, in this case, and is usually the case in labor disputes, is that to the vast majority of important audiences, namely customers, who’s right is unimportant. It doesn’t matter who wins. They just want the strike to end.

For most, there’s nobody to root for here. In big auto states like Michigan, longtime residents know that a long strike can be costly to them, even if their jobs aren’t directly affected. In the rest of the country, they just can’t picture being on strike at all. About 90 percent of Americans don’t belong to a union.

Compounding matters in this case is the scandal building at the UAW. Several top-ranking officials are already under indictment, with several of them reaching plea deals. They are expected to tell federal grand juries about misappropriation of member dues. A union under the specter of scandal isn’t going to generate much sympathy in 2019. Then again, neither is a corporation that is making giant profits 10 years after a taxpayer bailout.

If this strike continues, expect to see both sides trying to woo with messaging. But whatever is aired in public won’t matter much. The public call, if any, will be to end the strike.

Anyone who cares about the auto industry will want to make sure it doesn’t collapse, taking thousands of jobs with it. Everyone else will just start to tune it out. That leaves only one redeeming result. The only good PR is to make a deal.