Building Trades use social media to sway Ridgedale shoppers

Social media is one way that trade unions are reaching people, especially when it comes to a dispute with management, or in a local case, with the owners of a regional shopping mall. Beginning in the spring of 2014, several unions, spearheaded by Laborers Local 563, took issue with Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka over what the unions said were safety issues along with some sub-standard wage levels.

When the mall ownership began to restrict union representatives from coming into the mall to protest and hand out leaflets, the unions turned to the Internet to create their own website and Facebook page regarding the matter.

“It has proved effective,” said Kevin Pranis, a spokesperson for Local 563.

Response by the public to both the website and Facebook page has been good, he said.

"We have had a noticeable number of 'views' and 'likes' on both," he added. In fact, the response in terms of people going to the sites and to the mobile ads has been better than comparable ones we have had in the past relative to other subjects."

He also said that when union representatives had the opportunity to engage shoppers and visitors at Ridgedale, the majority of the responses were “positive."

Safety problems identified by the unions ranged from unlocked electrical boxes to open escalator shafts to a 20 x 30 foot roof skylight that did not have guard rails around it.
“There were also several incidents of construction workers not wearing all of the required safety equipment,” Pranis added.

The Laborers and several other Building Trades unions had a regular presence at the site from May up until early December. Then the owners of the mall, General Growth Properties of Chicago, enforced a policy that limits protesting or leafleting on the basis that the mall is private property.

So, the unions took to the social media world. They began by creating www.shopatyour ownrisk.comarguing among other things, that the safety issues they raised could also be a potential hazard for shoppers and regular mall employees, not only workers.

They also ran mobile ads to reach people patronizing the mall.

Ridgedale is still completing the project, which will add approximately 200,000 square feet to the existing mall, the majority of which will be for a new Nordstrom’s department store. The Nordstrom’s space will encompass about 142,000 square feet.

The total cost for the project is expected to come in at about $100 million.

Previously, Pranis and two members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers -- John Kripotos and Peter Lindahl -- were ticketed by Minnetonka police for being on the site after being asked to leave. Later, the charges against Kripotos were dropped at the request of the mall. Pranis said as far as he knows, the ticket to him is still outstanding, although he has not heard anything formal since December.

Pranis said activity at Ridgedale by the unions is quiet for the time being.

"We will be watching with a great deal of interest starting this spring when the construction season is back in full swing to see if the mall management is addressing the safety issues we have been raising."

Article by Mike Wilkinson reprinted from WorkdayMInnesota.