Last night, Publicola wrote a piece about Sound Transit’s policy of not running controversial advertising (a policy shared by Metro), and their decision not to run a recent pro-unionization ad.

There’s another side here. In the court of public opinion, advertising money buys support. Eyeballs on an issue raise awareness, and getting more eyeballs on your issue costs money.

Throughout history, the small forces for progressive policies, labor rights, and human rights in general, have less money than those who profit from employee exploitation and oppression.

The policy that caused Sound Transit to reject this ad would also cause Sound Transit to reject much better funded anti-unionization ads. The ability of a company to buy public opinion is something we have very few tools to limit, and this is one of them. Sound Transit’s position helps reduce the influence of money in politics.

There will shortly be a press conference by labor decrying Sound Transit’s choice. While this outrage helps them get publicity on their issue more than the rejected ad ever would,  in the long run, Sound Transit’s policy helps progressive policies far more than it hinders them.

72 Replies to “Sound Transit’s Ad Rejection Is Good For Progressives”

  1. I think we have laws against “employee exploitation and oppression”, last I checked anyway.

    1. If someone who has been working at the airport for 31 years is still making minimum wage, then some sort of oppression is going on.

      The favorite way to control labor costs these days is to contract everything out, so that nobody has a permanent job, and everybody has to start again at the bottom every few years.

      Karma can be a pill for those who think they are safe from the effects of contracting out everything. Any of you could be next.

      1. If someone who has been working at the airport for 31 years is still making minimum wage, then some sort of oppression is going on.

        There’s unequal access to opportunity, then there’s oppression. The guy could get another job in 31 years. It’s not oppression. Let’s not be hyperbolic.

      2. Brent’s right, contracting has exploded. I’m 29, with 2 master’s degrees, and I’m currently in my 4th consecutive 1-year contract with 3 separate employers. And my wife, 26, also with two degrees in her field, has her contract “renewed” on an annual basis simply by changing the name of the contracting agency (even though it’s really the same company). Her wages are reset annually with each new contract back to the minimum, so no experience accrues and she technically gets a “new” job every fiscal year while for all intents and purposes she has a “permanent” (indefinite?) job. Despite sufficient income, this makes it difficult for us to prove steady employment for the purposes of buying a house/condo etc., and saves companies boatloads on benefits they don’t have to give contract staff.

      3. Bellinghammer, the IRS might be very interested in the scheme that is screwing over your wife.

      4. Hosea Wilcox. Hosea is a skycap who has served airport customers professionally for 31 years – and is still paid minimum wage.

        The reason he’s been at it for 31 years is because skycaps make really good money on tips. Go down to the airport and try to get on as a skycap; good luck. Job turnover is virtually non-existant.

    2. We do, and it takes vigilance and continued organization to maintain those laws and to improve them.

  2. I’d much rather they run ads both for and against unions. This isn’t ST’s fight and it seems nuts to turn away ad dollars.

    1. In the case of candidate ads, I’m all for turning away the money, as allowing that class of political ads creates a conflict of interest between those who set the ad rates and those who buy them (who could be the same people).

      For issue ads, I say open the floodgates, as long as you don’t block my window view.

      1. Like your concluding sentence, Brent. Wonder how much it would cost me to buy transit advertising space on every metal part of the whole fleet to agitate for a boycott on everybody who makes me look out the inside of their billboard to see Mt. Rainier.

        Of for either a class action lawsuit or a concerted citizen campaign to transfer present window advertising from buses to the offices of every transit official who supports these travesties. And yeah, I’ll pay more for my pass- with the scenery out here, it’s worth it. Would also appreciate being given the choice.

        Mixed feelings about who’d win or lose if labor and management could post competing ads on transit. Tempted to side with Martin for pro-union reason: After the last 40 years, unions suffer less from management propaganda than from fact that most workers don’t know they exist.

        By that reckoning, every anti union ad would at least use the word “union”- which would be progress. Like the adage goes: “Just be sure you spell my name right.” But with new cel-phone apps, all labor needs now is enough space for one of those coded zig-zagged squares.

        Demographic that labor most needs to reach probably already has software in their heads that can read those things.

        Mark Dublin

    2. Then let’s have that discussion. You should figure out why ST isn’t running either ad (and they’ve said that) and write about it!

      1. Good point, Ben. I have a suspicion, but only people who’ve been around the art world realize the danger. What could be the real fear is what would happen if two rival schools of painting or sculpture took their feud aboard transit.

        Not only could trains be ripped to shreds like brillo pads, but helpless passengers would be subjected to barrages of kids with huge eyes and piles of broken lumber with plaques on them.

        Seriously, though, you’re right for this reason: what’s at issue here is more than advertising: it’s how we as a community learn to handle public disagreements in ways that don’t predictably lead to either violence or the threat of it.

        Mark Dublin

    3. I agree with Martin. The problem is you have to draw some sort of line somewhere: you can’t display pornographic ads or extreme violence or whatever. So then there’s pressure to draw other lines.

      In this case, everyone’s getting the advertising for their causes without the agencies getting any revenue: that’s extremely unfortunate.

      1. Let’s change that rule too. ;-)

        I think the rule on ads should be solely that outright verifiable dishonesty is prohibited, but good luck gettin that enforced… sigh….

      1. So let’s talk about changing the policy, instead of the unions here trying to say “they’re not following their policy”, which is unwinnable.

      2. Ben, I’m fine with amending the policy to render it even less restrictive, but it doesn’t need to be changed to run the advertisement.

        Sound Transit’s policy doesn’t say it will never run a controversial ad, it says it will “maintain neutrality” on controversial matters. Big difference. Maintaining neutrality doesn’t mean you refuse to run controversial ads, it means you don’t pick-and-choose sides. Running this ad doesn’t violate ST policy: running this ad and then refusing to run an anti-union ad that comes down the pipeline next week violates ST policy. As long as ST accepts both pro- and anti-union ads it maintains neutrality.

        Whoever wrote the relevant passage obviously understood the difference, or else the policy would just say that ST flatly refuses to accept ads addressing political, religious, or controversial matters. Simple stuff, really, and only by ridiculously conflating the concepts of “advertising” and “endorsing” does ST explain its rationale in the Publicola piece.

        Besides which, we’re one of the most educated and literate cities in the world: let’s be a little more adult about defining “controversial.” Graphic images of aborted fetuses are one thing, pointing out a man’s salary (with his permission) is another.

      3. The very statement by ST that unions are controversial IS controversial and as such they’ve chosen sides…

  3. Seems like a freedom of speech issue to me, and at some point there will be a lawsuit to settle the matter. There are “Jesus is ___” and Mormon ads all over buses. Would I not be able to run an anti-religious message because it’s controversial?

    1. It’s not freedom of speech to force someone to do business with you – people who own ad space and rent it out to advertisers have the right not to run whatever they want to run. The only reason this is a little different is that it’s a public agency that owns the space.

      1. Congratulating some group for not being able to place and ad because then the opposing side can’t either isn’t a good argument for censorship.

      2. Congratulating some group for not being able to place and ad because then the opposing side can’t either isn’t a good argument for censorship.

        Especially when the censorship costs transit agencies money for service.

    2. Those religious ads aren’t attacking anyone. ‘Anti-religious’ ads would be. If you wanted to just put up a billboard for atheism.org, that would probably be okay, but an ad that said ‘you’re all wrong!’ probably wouldn’t fly.

  4. I don’t see why Sound Transit shouldn’t take this ad. It’s not hurtful to any group. There’s no reason to give all the ad dollars to TV stations and newspapers, they can buy issue ads on buses and trains too.

    I think there’s a first amendment issue, too.

    The fact that it is a controversial topic is not a good enough reason to reject it.

      1. Yes. If the unions want their ad to be run, they should go after ST to change their policy.

  5. Since when is this a blog about progressive politics?

    Yes, progressives tend to support the goal of high-quality urban living, but we seem to have gotten the relationship reversed. This post belongs on Publicola or another political forum, not a transit blog.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, Joe, I tend to fall left of center on many issues. But this post is ridiculous. It’s a rallying cry for progressives and union supporters in the face of a terrible decision by Sound Transit. Its purpose is unrelated to the mission and message of this blog.

      2. Exactly Kyle.

        There are some Republicans and conservatives throughout the world who support transit, just not every single progressive agitation for “quiet act” tax increase$.

        The fact this blog has not thanked profusely King County Councilmembers Hague & Lambert rubs me raw… esepcially when they had to buck their own party, recieve death threats, etcetera, etcetera.

      3. A more appropriate post could have discussed all the resources our regional transit entities have wasted on the various ad issues over the last few years and get back to running buses.

    1. It’s about advertising on transit vehicles. Advertising is a major source of funding and funds are hard to come by. The issue isn’t about what side of the political spectrum you’re on but about accepting/rejecting advertising dollars. Very much a transit oriented issue. And it’s more than just dollars. Ads have the potential to affect ridership. “I’m not going to use transit if they carry ads promoting X.” There’s also legal issues which can become monitary issues very quickly.

      1. “I’m not going to use transit if they carry ads promoting X.”

        For me, the worst thought might be “I’m not going to vote for transit if it carries ad promoting X.” The guys driving cars and seeing the ads might not be riding transit anyway.

      2. That’s an excellent point. Especially with issue ads which some people might confuse with public service ads run for free. Or they just assume there’s a liberal bias in the agency tilting decisions toward that agenda. Airlines sometimes paint planes to promote something. How would ST respond to ads for Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue?

      3. “Advertising is a major source of funding and funds are hard to come by.”

        Again, is Sound Transit really having trouble finding enough clients to fill its ad spaces?

      4. It doesn’t seem like there’s any lack of ads on the buses. Don’t know if they’ve seen reduced ad revenue since the downturn in the economy but projected ad revenue for the SLUT has been way below what had been forecast.

    2. The relationship is mostly the other way. Urban dwellers tend to support progressive politics. :)

    3. Meh. This blog is about all things transit and land use in and around Seattle. Seems like the perfect place for discussion about bus advertisement policy.

  6. Theoretically, attempting to remove money from politics generally favors progressive causes more than conservative ones.

    However, Sound Transit’s decision is completely ineffective in furthering that cause. Political groups can still pour their money into TV & Radio, print, billboards, and banner ads. And they can be pretty much as controversial as they want, in those mediums.

    Besides, I remember Metro ads for the Rush Limbaugh radio show. If that’s not a political message, but a pro-union ad is… this is not a line anyone wants to draw. And in a post-Citizens United era, attempting to draw it is totally futile.

    1. Forgot about those Rush Limbaugh ads. They were up and running for quite a while.

      Additionally, unions may remember this decision and swing their weight around against ST come time for the ST3 vote.

      1. Great point about the Rush ads.

        I do think ST should change their policy, but that *is* money in politics.

      2. I think the unions will care more about project-labor agreements and not contracting out ongoing service provision more than they’ll care about this ad flap.

        But this decision does reek of interference by someone on the Board who made the mistake of publicly whining about a bus ad he didn’t like, and learned his lesson to do the whining privately.

      3. That opens a whole can of worms. How do you define what constitutes ‘political radio’? Where do you draw the line? WHO gets to define it? Is Ken Schraham’s show overly political? John Curley’s? Ross and Burbank?

  7. The problem — AGAIN — is that our transit agencies have very vague and non-specific policies which provide them too much leeway to accept or reject whatever a few individuals would like.

    I’m fine with restrictions on political messaging, religious beliefs, or controversial issues that could reflect poorly on a public agency… BUT what was pointed out here is that there is no political issue on the table, and there is currently no union campaign underway.

    That should make this an uncontroversial ad, with no need for review. In fact, I welcome the corporations who would like to run a counter-message for why they think we should pay workers less or offer fewer benefits. I’m sure that would do wonders for their bottom line!

    1. There’s always a union campaign underway. Right now it’s front and center of the budget debate in Olympia. How would you feel about North Carolina running ads, “Move to North Carolina, a right to work state!”

      1. Bernie, the ad is about airport workers, and the man featured in the ad says there is no campaign underway there.

      2. [Sound Transit] rejected an ad slated to run on light rail trains and Sound Transit buses from a Working Washington campaign billed as ItsOurAirport.org.

        Did you look at their website? How can anyone with a straight face say “there is no campaign underway”. The organization exists solely to campaign for unionization of these jobs. The top link on their home page is “SIGN THE PETITION”.

  8. Only 1.3% of ST’s 2012 revenue (roughly $11m out of $825m) comes from “Miscellaneous” sources, which include rental income on ST property, local government contributions, and ALL advertising. Such meager revenue isn’t worth political fights. Even though money is scarce, I’d approve of our agencies deciding to forego ad revenue if it meant avoiding litigation, keeping political neutrality, and retaining brand integrity on transit vehicles.

    http://www.soundtransit.org/Documents/pdf/about/financial/2012/Proposed_2012_Budget.pdf

    1. Me too. Plus, public stadiums, such as Safeco Field and Qwest, now Clink, should be named by those who financed them. Not named after some funky corporation that kicked in a few bucks for naming rights…

      1. Safco “kicked in” $40 million of the $517 million price tag in exchange for 20 years of advertizing. Beyond that they run promotional ad campaigns that help fill seats in the stadium.

      2. Quest ponied up $75 million for 15 years. Cost of the stadium was about the same. That’s pretty good coin for doing nothing.

      3. LOL, Bernie. They should have kicked in a few more signs. Perhaps you could spell Qwest and Safeco. Hehe. I am sure they would have built them on their own, just to get naming rights…

        75 million dollars times 2 for Qwest? I doubt it, Bernie.

      4. 75 million for 15 years. I don’t know where you got the times 2. Maybe you do math as well as I spell :=

        The stadium was originally named Seahawks Stadium. The name was changed to Qwest Field in June 2004 after the telecommunications carrier bought the naming rights for $75 million for a period of fifteen years.

        Only seven more years and you’ll have the opportunity to bid and put your name up in lights. Maybe only 2 if they don’t renew their option.

  9. Sorry Ben, it just sticks in my craw that any public agency, presided over by elected officials, could conclude that advocating for better lives for working people is considered so controversial that an ad can’t be posted on the side of a bus. Sad, sad, sad.

    Maybe the Social Security Agency will take offense, find controversy with all those lawyer ads in the bus tunnel, offering services to people denied disability status. SSA makes a fuss and ST takes those down too?

    Not too many years ago, transit advertising was a staple item in political campaigns, but even political campaigns now are considered controversial?

    1. You’re actually demonstrating why ST can’t run ads like this.

      Your response to them *not* running the ads is that they don’t want to “advocate for better lives for working people”. You assigned the ad’s values to the agency! That’s what they’re trying to avoid – they can’t take political positions as an agency (it’s illegal).

      1. It’s pretty clear ST has run corporate ads, which is blatantly political. They can either follow their own policy of neutrality and run union ads too, or stop running ads at all. Think about it!

  10. Why can’t transit vehicles and stations just advertise smokes and booze like they did in the old days?

    1. Heck, we can’t even have Mia asking why corner stands sell tobacco instead of produce.

      If I weren’t so lazy, I’d pore over the contribution reports to see which private advertising firms have contributed to whom, with the result that public advertising dollars end up being forced to be used on private agencies. I’ll bet a correlation could be found, though, if we looked hard enough.

  11. I’m pretty sure there will be PLENTY of Jack in the Box ads to fill the void. On a related note: I miss seeing the Valve adds for Portal, especially the bus wraps.

  12. @Bellinghammer My wife was in a similar situation as yours — she was working temp jobs — and didn’t have continuous employment. A mortgage broker told my wife and me that she should get a business license as a sole-proprietor. Then she could use that as proof of continuous employment. Even if the business wasn’t really doing anything, she’d be considered employed. The actually recommended that we both do it so we’d always have continuous employement even if we changed jobs, were unemployed, etc.

    I’d check with a mortgage broker, or some other knowledgeable person, yourself before taking that advice of course. I’m no expert.

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