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AFL-CIO takes the ‘union’ out of the ads

Elizabeth Wynne Johnson Jan 20, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: The AFL-CIO has launched a new ad campaign aimed at boosting the public image of unions. The ads are airing in Austin and Pittsburgh and will expand to other cities in the coming months.

But as Elizabeth Wynne Johnson reports, the union label is conspicuously absent.


Elizabeth Wynne Johnson: The AFL-CIO’s multi-million-dollar ad campaign comes at a time when fewer than 12 percent of private sector workers are unionized.

AFL-CIO ad: Work is what shakes us awake every morning and knocks us out every night.

Gary Burtless: It makes a very warm impression about the people who do work.

But to labor economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution, this ad is just as notable for what it doesn’t do.

Burtless: It does not really mention unions. It didn’t link the workers we saw with any direct action that viewers might take.

Contrast that with this United Garment Workers’ classic:

United Garment Workers ad: Look for the Union Label.

Today’s image campaign steers well clear of confrontation.

Ad: Work doesn’t separate. It’s what binds us together. I teach your kid. You fix my car.

21st-century unions may be onto something: selling collectivism by appealing to individualism.

In Washington, I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson for Marketplace.

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