In a high-stakes strike like the one between Verizon and its 45,000 union employees, the battle for public opinion is almost as important as the nitty-gritty wrangling at the bargaining table.
Verizon Communications Inc. will launch its first television spot in Philadelphia on Thursday, the same day that the Communications Workers of America runs its first print advertising in the Philadelphia region. The company already has been running print and radio advertising.
"It's the brand reputation of the organization that is at stake," said Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication.
Talks are continuing very slowly in Philadelphia between Verizon and its two unions, the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The strike began Aug. 7.
CWA's initial print ad features a Verizon employee, Oded B. Settles, a union sales consultant. In contrast, a Verizon print and radio ad series uses an actress to play a technician, a company spokesman said. The employee expresses satisfaction with her pay and benefits.
One of the campaign's goals, said Verizon spokesman Rich Young, is to send a message to striking Verizon workers like Settles. The proposed cuts, Young said, would not take them out of the middle class, even though the union advertising makes that point.
"We strongly feel that Verizon is a great place to work," Young said. "That said, these ads provide a little perspective. Strikes tend to be quite ugly in the public arena. This is our chance to tell our side of the story."
In the CWA ad, Settles looks worried. "I didn't make $250 million the last four years," the CWA advertisement will say. "I'm not a Verizon executive, I'm a Verizon worker."
The CWA ad copy says that Verizon is "pushing a contract that will push workers out of the middle class and roll back more than 50 years of gains for working families."
CWA's advertising takes a shot at Verizon's ads, a tough series with an unusual strategy: using the unions' own words to make the strikers appear out of date in today's changing, tech-driven times.
"They claim we want to strip away 50 years of contract negotiations," the company ad begins. "They're right.
"The union contracts that have expired were drafted over 50 years ago, when people still used rotary phones."
"Where do I start?" responded IBEW spokesman Jim Spellane.
"These contracts were not drafted in the era of rotary phones. They have evolved along with the industry and into the fiber-optic era."
Another Verizon ad says: "They claim we're asking union-represented employees to contribute to their own health-care premiums. They're right."
Verizon's 135,000 nonunion employees contribute toward premiums. "We're just asking our union-represented employees to contribute like everyone else. We think that's fair," the copy reads.
That angers CWA Local 13000 president James Gardler. Through copayments, he said, unionized employees already pay 7 percent.
Penn's Delli Carpini describes the Verizon strategy as effective, even if illogical.
"People know things have changed - the use of cellphones, the decline of older media," he said.
"So it kind of resonates at a superficial level: It draws you to a conclusion that because things have changed, health care and pensions should be reduced, but that doesn't necessarily follow," he said.
Crafting an advertising message can be tricky.
"If the employee is well-paid, especially if relative to other blue-collar workers, that can be a very persuasive bit of information," said Doreen Davis, a Philadelphia lawyer at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P. who has represented companies on strike.
"Other people won't be sympathetic, because they aren't doing as well as these [union] people," she said.
That's why Verizon's unions need to cast their fight as one for the middle class, said Ray Abernathy, a Washington consultant who helped Temple University's striking nurses develop their message a year ago.
"What happens to us, happens to you," he said. That has been the unions' strategy.
CWA's campaign, including the advertisement that will appear in Thursday's newspapers, points to www.verygreedyverizon.com - a website with a petition asking Verizon chief executive Lowell McAdam to negotiate in good faith.
So far, CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said, 100,000 people have signed the petition.
Social media have become a weapon for both sides, but they are a double-edged sword. Each organization has its official page, but there is plenty of unauthorized material, with 45,000 union members harder to rein in than a small knot of corporate officials.
Early videos of union workers yelling at replacement workers are gone from YouTube. So is a list of replacement workers' names and addresses posted on Facebook.
A memo from CWA's legal department warns members to be careful about postings.
"Do NOT post individual pictures of anyone on a social network site or make threatening statements personally attacking individuals who have allegedly crossed picket lines," the memo advises.
"It is virtually impossible to control information once it has been posted," the memo said. "Do NOT assume that these sites are private."
See how the battle over the Verizon contract has turned into a battle of public opinion at www.philly.com/verizonstrikeEndText