WICHITA — Labor dispute signs have been popping up at all kinds of businesses and nonprofits in the last couple of years, but Subaru of Wichita appears to be the first business to fight back.
“To be accused of desecrating the American way of life, we’re going to take a little bit of exception to that,” says Aaron Wirtz, who handles marketing and media for Subaru.
Earlier this week, the United Brotherhood Of Carpenters And Joiners Of America Local 201 began a protest in front of the dealership, which is on East Kellogg between Greenwich and 127th Street.
Subaru is in the process of a $1.5 million update to transform the property to the Subaru brand from the previous Suzuki brand that was there.
Wirtz says in addition to hiring a local architect on the project, Subaru hired Wichita’s Key Construction as its contractor. He says Key then hired Hi-Tech Interiors, a local nonunion firm, to do a small portion of drywall work.
In response, the Carpenters union now has people manning a “Shame on Subaru of Wichita” sign on an easement in front of the dealership.
“While we’re certainly not happy to see that, we were kind of unsurprised,” Wirtz says.
In response, Subaru now has a sign that plays off the “Shame” by saying, “For having unbeatable prices.” It also says “indisputable” in a couple of places on the sign.
Wirtz says Subaru respects the union’s right to protest.
“We’ve actually given them lunch. We’ve invited them to visit our facilities.”
Wirtz says he’s convinced the people with the sign are simply hired by the union to stand there.
“It doesn’t really look like they want to be here anymore than we want them to be here, to be quite frank.”
He says they won’t discuss what’s going on.
“We don’t do comments or anything like that,” says Carpenters representative Chad Mabin.
Instead, he refers to a union flier with a drawing of a rat that appears to be eating an American flag.
“A rat is a contractor that does not pay all of its employees area standard wages, including either providing or making payments for health care benefits,” the flier says.
Wirtz says passersby are likely getting the wrong idea from the sign.
“It’s disingenuous for (the union) to say there’s a labor dispute going on.”
Wirtz says everyone has been been paid a fair wage on time.
In addition to its own sign, Subaru has created its own response flier and is letting customers and others know what’s going on through a blog and social media.
“It seems to us like their intention is to actually intimidate and smear,” Wirtz says.
He says the response to the dealership’s response has “been unbelievable.”
“The people of Wichita are tired of this,” Wirtz says of the signs. “They’re tired of having these people stand outside of their churches, outside of the YMCA. It’s absurd.”