Some other news: Unions have been taking note of social media and its power to organize young people. So the AFL-CIO is using some of these new technologies, along with old ones, in a new ad campaign aimed at the young.

NPR's Richard Gonzalez has more.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: The AFL-CIO recently test-launched its new TV ad campaign with a disarmingly simple message.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Work doesn't separate. It's what binds us together.

GONZALES: The ad campaign is called Work Connects Us All. It features a multiracial cast of firefighters, teachers, autoworkers, even baristas - gathered in a stark, industrial interior.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Work doesn't separate. It's what binds us together. I teach your kid, you fix my car, he builds my city, she keeps it safe. Work is what connects us.

GONZALES: The ad never mentions unions, and only a quick credit at the end tells the viewer that it is sponsored by the AFL-CIO. The ad is airing in three test markets: Pittsburgh, Austin and Portland. The secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Elizabeth Shuler, says it's part of a long term effort to, in her words, re-introduce the labor movement to young people.

ELIZABETH SHULER: I think, really, we are looking to reach out and start a conversation with people that we normally don't talk to. Whether you're in a union or not, we are trying to show that we have shared values around the notion of hard work that really drives America forward.

GONZALES: It's the AFL-CIO's first ad campaign in 15 years that isn't linked to an election or specific legislation. And it comes as union membership has declined to about 12 percent of the American workforce, and less than 7 percent of the private sector. But Shuler says the unions hope to capitalize on the opening created by the Occupy Wall Street movement - which, she says has changed the national conversation.

SHULER: It's a conversation now around water coolers and at dinner parties, that we never thought would be happening, right? This idea that people would be talking about inequality the way they have been. And it's that spark that, really, we want to connect to.

HARLEY SHAIKEN: A lot of the campaigns unions have done in the past have been sleepers, you know. There's no getting around it.

GONZALES: Harley Shaiken is a labor expert at U.C.-Berkeley.

SHAIKEN: I don't think the ad stands alone. There's a website; there's a lot of interactive dimensions to it. And I think the labor movement is experimenting. It's innovative, it's interactive. It's not just a commercial - it's a new approach.

GONZALES: The AFL-CIO is flying into some stiff headwinds. Last year, a Gallup poll found that a slim majority of Americans - only 52 percent - approve of unions. That's near a record low. So we went to one of the test markets, Portland, to gauge reactions to the TV ad. In this coffee house, no one had yet seen the ad. But people were receptive, if somewhat skeptical.

BEN LICHENSTEIN: I guess it's a valuable message to get out there.

GONZALES: Ben Lichenstein, a 28-year-old engineering student, wonders whether the unions can tap in to the energy of the Occupy movement.

LICHENSTEIN: Large unions tend to be very insistent that the best way to approach these things is incrementally. And I think there has to be a second step, and probably a third or a fourth, in getting that message through successfully.

GONZALES: Twenty-nine-year-old Jeremy Broche is a bartender.

JEREMY BROCHE: I don't think it will change people's opinions. I've always had a favorable view of unions, but I know plenty of people that don't, and I don't think that a single ad would change that. I think that boots on the ground, actually talking with people talking about what unions are doing, changes that view.

GONZALES: But union officials say it's exactly that kind of feedback they'll need if they hope to convince younger people that the union movement can speak for them.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.