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Boomers to Zoomers: The Future of Local Unions

Solidarity Sunday: Boomers to Zoomers: The Future of Local Unions

In the last Solidarity Sunday we talked about Purpose as one driving force for recruiting and maintaining the right membership for your local. Union Up has conducted hundreds of interviews of union members of all trades and one thing is evident and clear: The way younger members learn and work is different generation to generation.

"They don't have the same work ethic we do" is a common refrain on GenZ, or "Zoomers" (age 12-27), from those of us leaders in the GenX bracket (ages 43-58) and older. The popular view is that smartphones have made them miserable, and they will live grimmer lives than their elders. But that isn't really true. They just work differently than we do.

"Doom scrolling", high anxiety, and a fear-of-missing-out seems to dominate their activities, but there is much reason to be hopeful about them, and thus hopeful about the future of our local unions if we play our cards right.

They are much more savvy and have a razor-sharp intuition when it comes their place in the world. What can be perceived by older generations as narcissistic, GenZ has a better sense of their own agency in their lives.

A recent article in The Economist puts it this way:

Already Gen Z-ers are transforming the world of work. They have bargaining power—and they know it. Many millennials came of age in the shadow of the global financial crisis; they felt so precarious that they were afraid to ask for pay rises. Gen Z seems to have fewer qualms about quitting for a better opportunity, or taking things slowly and enjoying life. Bosses, unused to being on the back foot, complain. But older workers will be quietly thankful if overall pay and perks go up.

We are well-suited to capitalize on this. How can we as local unions take advantage of this in our messaging, in our recruiting efforts, in our organizing efforts, in our advertising, on our websites, etc.?

Four things we can lean into on this:

Latitude- We already talk about bargaining power for wages/benefits on behalf of our members, but we don't always talk about providing members the latitude to seek a better opportunity within our network of employers. "Dragging Up" is often demonized by employers but it's a strength of a local union, especially in an economy that is hungry for skilled workers right now. This dovetails nicely into their line of thinking about employers. Unlike the non-union world, a union tradesperson has latitude and power to seek a better situation by signing the book and being re-issued to another employer.

Travel - Of course we want to fill the jobs for employers in our local jurisdictions, but from a GenZ employee perspective, it is very attractive to be able to hit the road for better wages and not have to sacrifice anything as far as retirement, pension, and benefits. This is hugely attractive even if they never take advantage of it.

Culture - "Belonging to something greater than oneself" is a common refrain of unions, and a core human emotion, but what is a specific example of that? One is the journeyman/apprentice relationship. It is a huge strength. As opposed to non-union, where a more experienced employee may not be willing to pass on the tips of the trade for fear of that person taking their job, Union journeymen are incentivized to pass information on to the apprentice. The more new journeymen we turn out, the more goes into our pensions, enabling our generation to retire, and that is true generation-to-generation. That doesn't get talked about enough.

History - Companies come and companies go but most local trade unions have been here or a long time, and we can provide them a chance to 'make history', as evidence by our grand celebrations we have on landmark occasions like 75th or 100th anniversaries.

The Write Side of History

Speaking of history, how are you writing your local union's history? Union Up takes care in writing and creating compelling history videos using modern story-telling techniques that bring artifacts and photos to life. We give your local and its members a great sense of pride in the local union to which they belong. We are currently working on one for a UA local, and can we provide your local with a show-piece that will make anybody proud. When you have an upcoming anniversary of note, let us tell your history like never before.


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