Leaders at the United Auto Workers union have launched a social-media blitz to help sell a new tentative labor deal ahead of a critical vote this week, hoping to persuade skeptical rank-and-file workers to support the pact after poor communication contributed to a previous agreement being rejected by a wide margin.
UAW President Dennis Williams and other union leaders are touting the latest deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on Facebook pages, with a barrage of postings and infographics aimed at detailing what union leaders say are the contract’s potential benefits. The UAW has hired New York-based public relations firm BerlinRosen to help hone the social-media strategy, including advising on how to present postings and when.
Many Fiat Chrysler factory workers and industry observers faulted UAW leaders for failing to clearly communicate the tenets of the previous deal. Voting on the new contract starts Tuesday and concludes Wednesday at Fiat Chrysler’s nearly two dozen U.S. factories and facilities.
Many members still find the new deal lacking, even though it offers a path to higher wages for new hires, and some criticized union leaders for spending members’ dues to hire an outside public-relations firm. One slogan making the rounds on Facebook reads: “Once upon a time we prepared to strike instead of hiring public-relations contractors.”
“I’m definitely against them using our money to pay for the PR firm,” said Marcelina Pedraza, 40 years old, who works at Fiat Chrysler’s factory that builds Jeeps and compact cars in Belvidere, Ill. “I mean, we can all read…And how hard is it for the union to do that work?” She said she was going to vote against the latest pact, contending it does “nothing but shuffle things around from what we were offered before.”
Still, the UAW’s social media pages largely went silent during the previous vote, leaving many workers frustrated and confused and allowing opposition to the deal to gain momentum. It was the first time in more than 30 years UAW members rejected a tentative national labor pact with an auto maker.
A UAW spokesman said the union has tapped BerlinRosen’s services to help it better communicate and engage with the membership. “When we hire experts who provide professional services it is to improve service to our members and strengthen the union for our members,” he said.
UAW leaders are anxious to lock down votes for the deal after workers rejected an earlier agreement by a nearly two-thirds majority, weakening Mr. Williams after he publicly plugged the previous pact’s benefits alongside Fiat Chrysler Chief ExecutiveSergio Marchionne. The previous deal failed to make enough inroads toward eliminating a divisive two-tier wage system that pays new hires far less than longtime veterans, according to many workers.
Mr. Williams has billed the new deal, which gives new hires a path to a higher $29-an-hour wage currently earned by longtime unionized employees, as among the richest ever. The deal also offers more details on Fiat Chrysler’s planned factory investments. Such investments can make workers feel like they have job security when they see their factory being prioritized.
The union leadership narrowly averted a strike earlier this month by reaching the current deal with Fiat Chrysler. Another defeat could revive momentum for a strike or force Mr. Williams to turn toGeneral Motors Co. or Ford Motor Co. to craft a new agreement.
The UAW typically tries to reach a deal with one Detroit auto maker and then negotiate similar pacts with the others, though Mr. Williams has been careful to promise each contract will reflect auto makers’ differing financial fortunes.
Some aspects of the deal could give members pause. It allows Fiat Chrysler to expand its use of temporary workers, which many UAW members view as a threat to job security, and does little to grow jobs, adding only 100 over the next four years.
Scott Monty, principal of Scott Monty Strategies, a consulting firm in Canton, Mich., said the recent pivot in the union’s communication strategy is stark, but changing ingrained worker sentiment will be tough. Workers previously decided the previous contract wasn’t acceptable partly because union leaders didn’t explain it well, he said.
While many workers don’t like the accord, some believe it will still pass by a narrow margin, according to a half-dozen workers interviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Workers get bonus checks for minting a deal, which would come before the holidays.
“You have to remember a lot of these new hires are single parents,” said Brett Ward, a worker at Fiat Chrysler’s factory in Sterling Heights, Mich. “Many may not want to risk what is being offered, especially when they are told there may be nothing more.”