The Communications Workers of America Local 1180 late last month started the first wave of graphic TV spots in a six-week, $150,000 cable campaign. Meanwhile, the Municipal Labor Committee, made up of a number of unions including the communications workers, plans a radio and print assault in mid-May.
The very public battles between labor and city governments are gaining popularity, much as negative campaigns have become the mainstay of politicians seeking office. Although they may be ugly, they work.
"Everybody is beginning to discover the power of media," said David Stewart, professor of marketing at the School of Business Administration at the University of Southern California. "The unions came late to this discovery, but now it's a standard part of their armament. I doubt seriously if it's ever going to go away."
Indeed, the Los Angeles Police Protective League recently found out how effective an attack campaign can be. The union, stymied by a City Council that refused to bargain, in March began a highly visible outdoor board campaign, created in-house, picturing a carjacking. The city came back to the bargaining table within a week, in return for removing the boards.
The communications workers' effort in New York is the local's first paid media campaign. Created by Lopez Communications, and two-thirds funded by the national organization, it consists of three spots. One addresses how the city can find new revenue sources. It opens on a piggy bank as the announcer suggests that the mayor look to landlords and stock transfer fees to raise money instead of slashing jobs. It closes with a close-up of a wingtip shoe crushing plastic models of schools and service agencies.
A second commercial, "Hands & Bills," shows hands passing money back and forth, noting that every dollar the city spends is matched by $3 in state and federal funds, and circulates through the local economy for a residual benefit of $9.
The third spot is perhaps most aggressive. It shows a list of workers being thrown into a trash can and set on fire. The announcer says grimly: "Doesn't it seem like we're all on Rudy's list?"
Bill Henning, a VP of Local 1180, said the union has chosen not to air "Rudy's List." A report in Crain's New York Business described the spot as a play off the movie "Schindler's List."
"Schindler was a hero," Mr. Henning said. "The mayor is not."
Separately, members of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association last December distributed fliers, created in-house, informing shoppers and tourists of the city's increasing crime rate and the police force's dwindling size. The fliers cautioned visitors about using Boston's public transportation system during certain hours.
Michael O'Hara, a police officer and union representative, said the city hasn't had a contract with the police since July 1989.
"We wanted to let people know that very little has been done at City Hall to control crime in the city," he said.
In addition to distributing leaflets in various high traffic shopping areas and at Logan International Airport and the city bus terminal, Mr. O'Hara said the association tried to buy outdoor space from Ackerley Communications, Stoneham, Mass., but was rejected.
Andrew Cranin contributed to this story.