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Striking Union’s Ads Slash Tiremaker

(Akron/Tire Review – Washington Times) There’s nothing subtle about the national advertising campaign being mounted by the United Steelworkers of America: Buy Goodyear tires and risk death.

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The union, which has been striking the Akron, Ohio, tire company for almost two months, is undertaking a public relations campaign to criticize Goodyear for using replacement workers, which the union says can lead to the production of unsafe tires.

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The campaign includes a radio advertisement broadcast in about 20 markets and a 30-second video clip posted exclusively on the Internet.

The radio spot features sound bites of screeching tires, cars crashing, an ambulance siren and emergency-room chatter. The piece ends with bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace." An announcer intones, "So, if you’re thinking of buying a Goodyear tire, how much risk can you afford?"

The ad is running in cities with large union populations, including New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, N.Y., and Kansas City, Mo., United Steelworkers’ spokesman Wayne Ranick said. No ads have run in Washington.

But, its the Steelworkers’ use of the popular Web site YouTube.com that is causing the biggest public buzz.

The clip, which the union produced itself, uses ominous music, a voice-over similar to those in political campaign commercials, grainy black-and-white photos of crashed vehicles and a person on an ambulance stretcher. It concludes with a slow-motion scene of a car rolling over, presumably after a tire failed.

About 15,000 United Steelworkers members have been striking Goodyear tire plants since Oct. 5, protesting the company plans to cut retiree benefits and close plants.

In late October, Goodyear announced plans to close a plant in Tyler, Texas, eliminating about 1,100 jobs. The sides haven’t talked since Nov. 17.

The union says the ads are necessary because replacement workers are less experienced than union laborers, creating serious safety concerns.

These concerns, the union adds, are rooted in precedent. The radio ad and video clip reference the recall of 6.5 million Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires in 2000. The defective tires, many of which the union says were made by replacement workers during a strike, were blamed for more than 270 deaths.

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Although the recall didn’t involve Goodyear, the union implies Goodyear’s use of replacement workers could lead to the same results.

"A lot of these [union] tire builders consider themselves artisans," Ranick said. Tires "are hand built – it’s not just somebody there pushing buttons" on a machine.

Goodyear says its quality standards haven’t changed. The company adds that all production supervisors have remained on the job.

"Not only have the standards and systems and procedures not changed, but the people overseeing them are still there," Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey said.

The United Steelworkers has run public relations campaigns on radio, television and in print in the past, but this is the first time it has used YouTube, Ranick said. “We’ve had an amazing number of hits," he said, referring to the number of times the video has been viewed online. "There are different ways to target different audiences, and I think that anybody who is trying to effectively communicate to the public, to the consumers, has to investigate all the options."

"It gets around in a viral nature, meaning it spreads easily," said Gary Arlen, president of the Bethesda media research and consulting firm Arlen Communications Inc. "It’s sort of a guerrilla marketing tactic – once it’s out there, it’s really hard to drop."

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The union has not decided whether to run the video on television, although it remains a possibility, Ranick said.

“They are produced with the intent of them being able to run as 30-second spots on TV," he said.

Since the video is not a political ad, the union would be free to run the spots without the Federal Communications Commission’s approval. The agency would only become involved if a complaint were filed.

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