I’ve been involved in government, media and politics for 20 years. And one of the first things that I learned is that it is never what it is, but what it looks like. For example, take the guy who works in a sheep barn and has a formal event that night. He brings a change of clothes so he can go to the event after work. After finishing his day he goes into the back of the barn and takes a shower. As he comes out of the shower naked and dripping wet, and surrounded by sheep, the farmer walks in. It’s not what it is, it’s what it looks like. The union protesters and Indiana House Democrats should have heeded this advice.
As I have watched the entire debate unfold as Indiana nearly completes its journey on the road to becoming the 23rd Right to Work state, I’ve noticed multiple missteps by opponents of RTW. For example, the day the Governor’s office bowed to public pressure and lifted restrictions on the occupancy limits at the Statehouse, House Democrats could have proudly staged an event and walked into the chambers to the cheers of thousands of screaming supporters, declared a major victory for the people and held a rally about how they will fight RTW to the very end. What did they do instead? They started the first of a series of walkouts. So instead of the headlines reading “Daniels Opens Statehouse” the news of the day was “Democrats Walk Off the Job”.
Another PR mistake in the fight over RTW was done by the unions. In Terre Haute, the Local IBEW #725 sent a letter out to charitable organizations that it’s given money to and “requested” they send letters to their state lawmakers opposing RTW. The union also said in the letter, that if the charity wasn’t going to write a letter in support then it should not expect any support from the union in the future. Nothing like a little blackmail and extortion to endear yourself to your community. And by the way, why would the local little league baseball organization or group home for developmentally disabled young adults want to get into the middle of a fight over RTW? Also many of these groups are forbidden from getting in the middle of political debates or they could lose their non-profit status. And don’t even get me started on the unions showing up at the Speaker’s home in suburban Indianapolis to protest RTW.
But I guess, the biggest PR disaster has yet to occur, the proposed protesting and possible disruption of Super Bowl festivities in downtown Indianapolis. To date the unions have yet to say they won’t disrupt activities leading up to the event. Police and authorities have two protest zones set up, one of which is the south side of the Statehouse the other at Illinois and South. There has been some chatter about Teamsters bringing semi-trucks downtown so they could “break down” and obstruct traffic. As one colleague told me over breakfast, traffic will be so bad downtown that would anyone notice that it was the unions who were responsible for the backup. In addition, if anyone thinks a semi-truck is going to get anywhere near Lucas Oil Stadium that hasn’t been checked by Homeland Security and state and local authorities might want to reconsider. And let’s say the unions did manage to disrupt activities during the Super Bowl over RTW, what would they really gain? Apart from making a lot of people really upset. Think about being mad about being forced to go to dinner with your parents so you embarrass them at the restaurant. You know what is going to happen when you get home. So you might want to have child protective services on speed dial.
Those are just a handful of examples of PR mistakes that opponents of RTW have made which have not helped their cause. I frankly think they would have been better off keeping their fight to the Statehouse floor, videotape every member who supports or opposes RTW and then start making campaign commercials and gear up for the fight in November. Showing up at someone’s home, threatening charities and trying to disrupt the world’s largest sporting event is no way to win friends and influence people. All it gets you is either a 54-44 or 28-22 vote in favor of RTW.