Ad for Cat replacements pops up on new digital billboards
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2012 9:32PM
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:19AM
JOLIET — Caterpillar is advertising for replacements of its striking workers on a digital sign set up last month on a Joliet landmark site in a joint arrangement with the city of Joliet.
The city is just starting to get into the advertising business with a sign company that owns the signs and sells the advertising, which is displayed on city property with some restrictions.
Advertising for temporary replacement workers to help Caterpillar through the strike is not one of those restrictions, city officials said.
“I don’t have a problem with the ad. It’s free speech,” Mayor Thomas Giarrante said when asked about the ad.
Giarrante, a former president of the city’s firefighters union, has supported the striking workers, speaking at a union rally last month and calling on Caterpillar management to negotiate. But he said the advertisement on the digital sign was a matter of private business as well as free speech.
How free is free?
Freedom of speech is not a blanket rule, however, for the new digital signs. As well as banning ads for strip clubs, tattoo parlors and alcoholic beverages, the city agreement with Impact Outdoor prohibits political advertising “in order to avoid the inadvertent suggestion of city endorsement or opposition.”
The same rule prohibits advertising related to “public questions or issues of recognized political or social debate such as abortion, gun control, immigration, war or matters involving sexual orientation.”
Some of the striking Caterpillar workers on the picket line said the hiring of replacements to do union work fell in the category of a public issue.
“I think it should be the same thing because this is not just an advertisement,” said striking worker Joe Johnston of Kankakee. “They’re trying to break our backs.”
Caterpillar began advertising for temporary replacement workers over the weekend in newspapers, including a full-page color ad in The Herald-News. It started advertising Tuesday on the two digital signs erected this year on city property — one on the corner of Larkin Avenue and Theodore Street and another on an Interstate 80 billboard at the Des Plaines River.
The two signs are the only electronic billboards Caterpillar is using to advertise for replacement workers, a company spokesman said.
City says it’s OK
Striking worker Charles Paull of Morris said he considered the digital advertisement another attempt to intimidate the machinists union members who have been on strike since May 1.
“They’re doing all they can,” Paull said. “They sent letters to our homes. Now, they’re doing this sign.”
The Caterpillar ad is one of many on the signs, which flip through different commercial messages. Many of the advertisements are public service announcements, such as promotions for city events and festivals. Free space for public service announcements is required in the agreement between the city and Impact Outdoor.
The sign at Theodore and Larkin is mounted on a stone wall bearing the name Joliet in the same lettering used on other city-owned markers around town. The sign is at an entry point to the city.
Giarrante and Ben Benson, the city’s communications director, said they had not received any calls from the public about the Caterpillar ad.
Benson said he had received an email ahead of time from Impact Outdoor representative Rod Hursh that the ad was going on the signs. But Benson said he did not see the Caterpillar ad as falling into the limits that the city puts on the signs.
“You have to remember that he does have his own business and has to recoup his investment,” Benson said. “He can pretty much advertise with whomever he wants as long as it doesn’t violate our morality clause.”