Las Vegas Sun interview re MGM Grand labor problems

July 18, 2007

On my way home, stuck in Seattle gridlock traffic, I was interviewed by a reporter from the LasVegas Sun. The question–does MGM Grand have a reputation crisis on its hands? Labor negotiations are apparently going badly and there is the threat of a work stoppage. Worse, Nevada is the site for one of the first presidential primaries and Democratic candidates are likely to jump on board to show solidarity with the unions and may even lead the parade arm in arm with union leaders. Is this a problem for MGM Grand and how should they deal with it.

First, let me admit, I made two mistakes in responding to this reporter–probably more but two I can think of right now. First, I didn’t take the requisite time to think things through like I always advise those I media train. Second, since I was driving I didn’t get the reporter’s name and phone number and when I went to call him back after thinking of an important point I missed, I saw my phone said “Unavailable” number.

What I told him (I think) was that this was a two edged sword and if handled right could fall into the category of “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.” In other words, it is publicity. But it will only to their advantage if they are aggressive and effective in communicating how they have bent over backwards to treat their highly valued employees right and with respect. If they cede the field of communication to the obviously media-savvy union leaders, they could get hurt. What makes these situations worse, is the company is frequently reluctant to talk publicly since they know that can infuriate the other side and make negotiations tougher. Between a rock and a hard place so to speak.

What I should have told the reporter and thought about later, is that I would try to diminish the enthusiasm of candidates to publicly participate by communicating directly with them how they have gone overboard to meet demands, how their offer is more than fair, etc. Also communicate their willingness to let their side of the story be told publicly to the point of committing to get their message out even through paid advertising if they have to. The the candidate would have to decide whether there is more to gain or lose by staying out of it.

I pointed out to the reporter that in my view the majority of Americans are in the “saveable” category when it comes to union issues. In other words, they can be swayed either to support the unions or support the company. Die hard union supporters of course are not “saveable” neither are die hard anti-unionists. But most Americans want to know that companies are caring, respectful and have good reason to hold the line against unreasonable demands. MGM can show that and win. Without showing that, the unions and the candidates will have a field day.

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