A controversial anti-Volkswagen group and the United Auto Workers have spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertising in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Center for VW Facts, an advocacy group run by political operative and UAW member Joe DiSano, has been a major voice in the campaign to organize workers at a Chattanooga auto plant under the UAW. While the group and the union have both insisted there is no coordination between their efforts, the center has employed an advertising strategy that appears to complement the efforts of the union. Both groups have combined to spend about $170,000 in advertising since May.
The center hired Michigan-based Change Media Group (CMG) and D.C.-based Sage Media to place more than $27,000 worth of 30-second advertising spots on local television—the same media buying groups employed by the UAW to place its ads in Chattanooga, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission. A May 29 purchase order for the center showed that the stated purpose of its buy was for "VW Union," the same label that UAW has used for its purchases.
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DiSano did not return requests for comment. Janet Katowitz, president of Sage Media, declined to comment on the matter. "We have no comment for the press, thank you," she told the Washington Free Beacon.
The UAW has concentrated most of its $142,335 in ad spending on prime-time events, such as the PGA Tournament and the NBA Finals. The center, operating on a fraction of the budget, has focused its attention on peak morning television hours. A UAW spokesman dismissed the similarities as coincidental, pointing to the small media market in Chattanooga, the Michigan roots of Change Media Group, as well as the publicly available database that allows other buyers to see gaps in advertising. He flatly denied any coordination between the center and UAW's activity, saying the union's sole concern is on Tennessee workers, who would be the first unionized auto company employees in the right-to-work state.
"We are not [coordinating]. Period. We were not aware of the launch of [the center] nor are we funding it," the spokesman said. "Our focus is on Chattanooga workers and the right to have the same workplace rights for a direct seat at the table as every other UAW worker and Spring Hill workers."
Southern Momentum, a group opposed to unionization, has also taken to the airwaves in an effort to rebut the UAW and other union advocates. The group's spokesman, labor attorney Maury Nicely, said the advertising behavior of the center and UAW strike him as more than coincidence.
"Anybody who looks at this can tell there's a ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink' relationship between these two entities," Nicely said. "The UAW wants to be able to distance itself [from the center] and I can understand why—the attacks against VW have backfired on them and really upset a lot of employees."
Nicely added that Southern Momentum's funding is local to Chattanooga and that the group has not received any funding from VW for its activities. It has spent $88,070 on advertising in the closing weeks of the campaign. He said the group's strength relies on community connections, rather than the airwaves.
"We are trying to keep up as best we can, but we can't compete with the amount of money thrown at this election by the UAW," Nicely said. "I think the community is ready for this election to be done."
The unionization vote is scheduled to begin Wednesday.