Workplace Leader Vol. 2, No. 4

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Vol. 2 | No. 4



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THREE DIGITAL TRENDS Unions Shouldn’t Ignore

he last decade has changed the communications game entirely and the labor movement now organizes in a totally new environment compared to that of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The playing field has been fundamentally transformed by digital disruption, seismic shifts in the media environment, polarization, the toxic influence of social media, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic.

how people use the internet. The internet used to be like a telephone directory. You would “look something up” online to find an answer and then go about your day largely offline. But today, the proportion of time people spend online relative to offline has flipped.

In an environment where organizing is increasingly difficult, it is vital that unions give themselves every advantage in our fight for workers’ rights. That’s why it is so important that those of us who work in the labor movement are aware of today’s major digital and technology trends.

New research from eMarketer reveals that the average American spends 7 hours, 50 minutes per day with digital products and services. This includes social media, online browsing, news consumption, and digital streaming across video (e.g. Hulu and YouTube) and audio (e.g. Spotify).

Here are three digital trends that unions shouldn’t ignore.


The Content Revolution

Over the last decade there has been a major shift in


This means that people are spending a large proportion of their day consuming online content. In order to stay relevant and capture the engagement of workers, unions need to produce high quality online content in vast quantities. This content should be in the form of blogs and articles on websites, podcasts, videos and more. There is simply no way that unions can grab the attention of and build a relationship with working people without the production and distribution of good quality, valuable content.



It might sound strange to suggest that text is an emerging trend, especially if you found yourself on the wrong end of a barrage of text messages in the lead-up to last year’s Presidential election. While it might be the case that text has peaked in political campaigns, unions are just scratching the surface of its application for member engagement, organizing, and deeper relational work. Keep in mind that text doesn’t just mean Short Message Service, or SMS for short. Think about WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and even chat box clients like Drift that can be overlaid on your website to capture immediate engagement.

more likely to engage with you, since this is one of their preferred modes of communication.


Artificial Intelligence

The labor movement needs to engage deeply with emerging artificial intelligence (AI). This is vital for two reasons. First, AI is poised to drastically reshape the world of work, potentially rendering entire sections of the workforce irrelevant in years to come. The implications of AI at scale are already being felt in the manufacturing sector, with warehousing and distribution not far behind. This poses a direct threat to union members and working people more generally. We all know that management will try to leverage AI against workers if they aren’t already. This means as organizers we need to get ahead of them and figure out how to use it to build power for working people. The other reason unions should think about AI is that while we tend to think of it as a futuristic technology, it has become widely accessible over the last few years and is found in a number of consumer-facing products.

In fact, many folks using text to its full capacity are leveraging some form of AI by deploying chat bots. However, bots are just one application of AI technology. The application of AI that can potentially be very beneficial to the labor movement is what’s called Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP is a technology that reads large amounts of text to ascertain meaning and intention. There could be all sorts of applications for AI technology for unions, starting with a way to better understand our members and supporters at scale. This could potentially provide deeper insights into what people are thinking and feeling than traditional polling and research, for a fraction of the cost. The labor movement faces challenging times. That’s why it is so important that we stay abreast of emerging trends in technology and digital strategy. These tools can provide us with an edge in our organizing and other campaigns and help us scale up the mass movement required to take on the multiple crises we face. z – J ack Milroy is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Defiance, a consulting firm that helps labor unions and progressives to grow their membership, build power, and raise money online.

The fact is most people today feel very comfortable engaging via text and it’s our job as labor organizers to meet them where they are. There will always be a place for phone calls and direct 1:1 conversation but increasing your engagement over text platforms should mean we can better ID these opportunities. For organizations (like unions) with members that need access to services or expertise, giving people the ability to get an answer while they are on the go is a real value add to your service. It also ensures that younger workers are  |

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GOING DIGITAL: The Cheat Sheet for Labor


nions of all sizes lag behind most employers, especially those in the private sector, when it comes to all things technology. Falling behind in the digital space isn’t just a superficial or aesthetic problem when everyone, including your members, is spending more time than ever interacting with others on a touch screen. If you’re not using technology as effectively as the boss, you’re likely missing organizing opportunities both large and small. This article offers a few ways your local can play catch up and engage members where they are: online. Manage Those Lists No campaigner would ever call through a list without, well, an accurate list of contacts! The same goes for social media tools, advertising platforms, email and text messaging. The more things change, the more some fundamentals stay the  |

same. Behind every digital action, digital organizing, or digital advertising campaign lies a plain old spreadsheet. Cleaning and maintaining lists is a substantial investment of human resources, but it’s a necessary process. Whether you’re emailing, text blasting,

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organizing online or targeting members or potential members with ads, you’ll need a list with a unique ID (usually an accurate email address) for each individual. Just remember whatever platform you’re using, you’ll want to first save your spreadsheet as a .CSV (not a full Excel spreadsheet) file before you upload. (If you’re unfamiliar with Excel, take some time to explore and learn what it’s capable of — it’s a very effective tool for keeping track of your contacts.)

Learn What Works Phones have been around for a century or so, but while technology has invaded Going Digital continues  >



GOING DIGITAL: The Cheat Sheet for Labor ▼ continued

nearly every other aspect of our lives, a simple phone call from someone other than a close friend or family member may now be seen as intrusive. Email was a novelty for those of us who remember letters and postcards. Now, however, with our inboxes full of everything we used to get through the mail, it’s so easy to lose or overlook important messages. There may never be a replacement for email and postal mail for important notices, especially legal notices concerning contracts and bargaining, but open rates for email now trail behind other media, such as texting. For urgent updates, quick calls to action, and more generally member engagement, consider using an app that allows your team to reach members in large numbers on their smartphones, without using your own data or phone number. Several commercially available texting apps are out there, but you may also check with your international or state council to see if they already have an app you can use free or at reduced cost. These apps include WhatsApp and signal, among others, which use end-toend encryption, meaning that messages cannot be intercepted between the sender’s device and the recipient. They do not protect against messages being lifted off of another person’s device however if their device is already infected with malware, so be sure to continue to keep your devices secure, use antivirus protection, and only download apps from trusted sources.

The machines aren’t taking over, but they can take over the small stuff Features already available in social media tools and changes to your  |

website design can go a long way toward reaching and serving members while taking a substantial amount of work off your human hands. Take a moment to write up auto responses for your social media messaging apps and your email. Most importantly, use these automatic replies to tell members (and maybe future members!) how they can contact the right people or person to address their concerns. It only takes a few moments and can save union staff time and frustration in directing inquiries. If you’re interested in going a step further, look at how information on your website is organized. Are there dedicated pages for each department? Is it clear to visitors where they can go with specific inquiries or concerns? If you’re handy in this area, consider taking the guesswork out of contacting your union and make contact forms that gather the information you need from visitors and forward their requests directly to the correct department at their email address.

Be Proactive and Stay Visible There are easy ways to make sure your union is approachable to its members and the people who need to become members. It’s not enough to have your phone numbers listed and your homepage up on the web, because no one uses the phone book and each website is just one among billions. Consider building and maintaining a constant social presence with your members and members to be. If you haven’t yet done so, make sure you have verified your union

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with Like celebrities who get a blue check next to their name to verify their identity with Twitter, unions who get verified at are certified official to their members and to the larger labor movement. While you’re at it, set up your profile and get your member leaders and staff to do the same so you can stay in touch, collaborate, and share some good news in a space that is open and safe for members of labor.

What Are Your Ideas? What things have worked for your union to connect with members and future members? How do you keep yourselves connected and organized? Send your tips (and questions!) to z


✓ Know your contract ● ✓ Be diligent ● ✓ Attend meetings ● ✓ Treat members equally ● ✓ Follow through ● – Adapted from an article by David Bates, Transport Workers Union




PANDEMIC DOESN’T Give Boss Right to Act Unilaterally


he reality and uncertainties of the pandemic — and the new threat of the Delta mutation — provides employers with the opportunity to do the right thing in protecting their workers and customers. Or, they may use the pandemic as an excuse to install new and unreasonable restrictions on the employees and their unions. Companies may turn to the “management rights” clause in the labor contract to justify taking unilateral actions. Recent arbitration decisions, however, show why such clauses do not give companies “carte blanche” to change working rules, discipline policies and other conditions. When one company decided to dump its “progressive discipline” policy so that it could discharge workers on the first offense, the union won when an arbitrator agreed that such a change would violate its labor contract, specifically the “just cause” clause.1 In another case, a company unilaterally initiated a rule that all workers in a certain area were required to purchase and wear safety shoes, claiming it had a right to do so under its obligation to provide for a safe workplace. No, said an arbitrator, who noted that past practice had been to require union approval for workplace safety rule changes.2

A typical management rights clause reads: “The management of the Company and the direction of the working force, including the right to plan, direct, curtail, determine and control plan operations, hire, suspend, discipline or discharge for proper cause, layoff, transfer, to promote efficiency and all rights customarily exercised by an employer, except as may be specifically limited by the Agreement, are vested in the company.”3 Note the underlined phrase. In other words, the company may take any action unless it is specifically prohibited by the contract. And, even when there are no specific limits listed, there are clauses that can be viewed broadly, such as the

“just cause” clauses used in the example shown above. Likewise, the “recognition clause” states the union is recognized to represent workers “for the purposes of collective bargaining in respect to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment.”4 Many company changes may be challenged by referring to this clause. And, as the earlier example showed, an established past practice could negate use of the management rights clause. To be clear, each case is different and many other factors need to be taken into consideration on whether a challenge to an employer’s use of management rights will be upheld by an arbitrator. It’s important that as employers use their management rights clause to impose restrictions in the name of protecting the health and safety of the workers during the pandemic, unions need to recognize that they have a right to negotiate on the terms of many such actions. – Ken Germanson. The author is a veteran labor journalist.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1070 and Indianapolis Public Transport Corp. Langdon Bell, arbitrator. Oct. 5, 2016. Steelworkers Local 1999 and Carrier Corp. Louis V. Imundo, Jr., arbitrator. Sept. 3, 2015) 3 Agreement between Chicago District Council of Carpenters (Industrial Division) and Design Agency, Inc., 2016-2020. 4 Ibid. 1 2

Workplace Leader is published six times a year by UnionBase. Contents ©2021 UnionBase. Reproduction in whole or in part electronically, by photocopy, or any other means without the written consent of UnionBase is prohibited.  |  Cover art produced by Billy Buntin of BBDigital Media. Layout & Design by Chadick+Kimball.  |

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