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April 10, 2013 / Paul Levy

Eye on SEI

Sunday, October 26, 2008, 6:42pm

Mobile billboard

The picture above is of the mobile billboard hired by the SEIU to publicize its “Eye on BI” campaign. The union sent it to be visible at a fund-raising event held Friday night for our affiliated community hospital, BID~Needham.

Let’s think about this. The attendees at this event are loyal supporters of this community hospital. They serve as voluntary members of its governing bodies, and they donate their hard-earned money to the hospital because they believe in its mission and have confidence in the management and staff. They know that SEIU opposed the issuance of bonds to finance the expansion of the hospital’s emergency room and other services. They come out for a pleasant evening together to support the hospital, and they see the SEIU spending money on a mobile billboard to denigrate the reputation of the academic medical center that has also provided millions of dollars in support of their community hospital.

(In case you are wondering, a mobile billboard like this can be purchased for stints of 220 hours of travel time. The rental cost is $12,100 per 220 hours. There is also a $3,500 production fee for the panels.)

Is this effective? Well, you can be sure that attendees at this gathering were not impressed and remain very loyal to the institution. Well, how about the workers at BIDMC itself?

To answer that, in the post immediately below this one, I am sharing the responses I have received from staff members about SEIU’s advertising campaign — beyond those comments on my blog posting a few days back. The short summary: Even staff members who are sympathetic to unions are put off and insulted by the campaign.

So, is this a strategic error on the part of SEIU? After all, why would you want to alienate the very work force you are ultimately trying to recruit or from who you are trying to obtain support?

The answer, as I have explained in earlier posts, is in the nature of a corporate campaign. The object at this point is not to organize the workers: It is to organize the company by attempting to degrade its reputation in the community, in the hope of getting concessions in the certification process. In this case, too, there may be an interest in showing other hospitals in Boston what the union can do if it wants to spend money trying to hurt your reputation.

Once upon a time, unions would try to organize workers. Their organizers would actually spend time getting to know the workers, trying to build trust, and thereby enhance the likelihood of winning a certification election. SEIU, though, does not start by trying to organize the workers. It tries to organize the company using the methods we are now seeing. Beyond the mobile billboard, SEIU has spent tens of thousands of dollars in just one month on misleading advertising at bus stops, on radio, and on television about topics that have little or nothing to do with workers’ concerns.

So, maybe we need a new slogan: Boston needs to keep an eye on SEI. After all, a union that spends this kind of money to undermine the reputation of a respected part of the health care system, that leads dedicated people working in that hospital to feel insulted and attacked, and that denigrates its volunteer community leadership needs to be watched very, very closely.

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