Left: Union members gather in front of Toledo Blade building on April 10; photo by historymike
(Toledo, OH) The Toledo Blade, currently in contract negotiations with its eight unions, has launched a series of television ads designed to highlight the paper’s image toward unions.
The ads feature former WTOL anchor Jeff Heitz, who narrates a script that places the Blade at the forefront of positive union-management relationships in the city. In most of the ads Heitz is positioned in front of the Toledo Blade building.
One ad begins with a young girl looking through a family album with her grandmother. The two discuss all of the relatives who have moved away from Toledo due to its former reputation as a town unfriendly to business.
“Will I have to move away to get a job, Grandma?” asks the young girl.
Heitz explains that, given such high-profile successes as the Jeep and Powertrain expansions, unions and corporations have learned how to work together for common goals.
The ad campaign angers the members of the Blade’s unions, said union council spokesman Larry Vellequette.
“With Jeep and Hydromatic they didn’t come to their employees with a gun in their hand and make outrageous demands,” he said. “We have not gotten a single changed offer in the past three months from the Blade’s negotiators. The Blade is hypocritical in running such ads, since they have done almost nothing to work with the unions during these negotiations.”
Luann Sharp, assistant managing editor for the Blade, took issue with Vellequette’s assessment.
“The ads are informational in nature, and designed to get out our side of the story,” she said. “There seems to have been quite a bit of media attention devoted to the unions’ side of the issues.”
The ads are also designed to promote Toledo’s achievements in the recent past, said Sharp.
“The ads are part of a campaign to demonstrate the successes that can happen when labor and management work together,” she said. “The UAW and the auto companies have accomplished some tremendous things in Toledo over the last few years by working together.”
Vellequette said that some of the Blade’s tactics during the period of negotiations belie the paper’s claims that it is interested in cooperative solutions.
“The paper has stopped withholding union dues from many union members,” he said. “This tactic has only one purpose – they try to weaken the union by making the union collect dues by hand.”
The firm of King and Ballow – hired by the Blade to lead contract negotiations – is also a sore spot for union members, said Vellequette.
“This is a national union-busting firm that is notorious for reprehensible tactics,” he said. “At a recent session they told us: ‘The unions have run this company for 70 years and now it’s our turn.’ How can the Blade claim it is working with us when they hire union busters?”
An email obtained by the Toledo Free Press addressed to union employees, written by human resource director David Warders, provided advice to union members. The letter reminded union employees that they may choose to stop paying dues, leave the union, or cross picket lines.
“We also want to remind you that the choice is yours – you are free to join a union – or not to join a union,” Warders said in the letter.
To Vellequette and many union members, such correspondence was disheartening.
“They also sent these to our homes, and this is an ugly tactic designed to try and divide us,” he said. “Does this sound like a company that really wants to ‘work together?’”
This article also appears in this week's Toledo Free Press.