Solidarity Sunday: Keeping Union Culture Alive
Back in the day, you had to know someone or be family in order to get into many unions. That created a culture that was easy to understand, on and off the job, with principles that were passed down through the generations. However, it was exclusionary and detrimental to our growth.
Now, in many ways, we've swung too far the other way. Lack of skilled workers, and an abundance of work means that if somebody can fog a mirror, they might find a job with a union contractor these days. Many of our contractors are even proactively recruiting outside of the union system. Employers are trying to make it less and less relevant for new hires to want or even need to go to the hall. Some apprentices leave their local union (and union affiliation overall) shortly after turning out as journeymen.
Given this set of circumstances, how do we instantiate a rightful union culture? How do we get new hires to understand what unionism is? How do they come to understand what it means to take care of each other on the job if we don't know each other? If we don't have events and meetings and opportunities to socialize and get to know one another outside of the job, we won't. If that's not going to be at the union hall, then we've got to take it to them. We can't blame newer members if we haven't done all we can to exemplify a proper union culture. They don't know what they don't know.
Establishing a culture is difficult. You hear every new coach talk about it. It's why it is so rare to have a first-year coach win a title. A winning culture takes talent, strategy, planning, and…intention.
START EARLY: Create events and opportunities for apprentices and pre-apprentices to bond with one another in a union culture. Whether they are dues-paying members yet or not. Dedicate time and financial resources to it. Create apprentice events that give apprentices of all classes a chance to socialize with one another, break bread, learn about each other, learn about union culture and history outside of the work day. (In our local we call it AMPED™…Apprentices Mandating Progress Every Day)
They can't "be a part of something greater than themselves" until they know what our greater cause is. Also, develop a new referral message and talk them about union culture right out of the gate, before they take their first referral.
TAKE THE MESSAGE TO THEM: In 2024, you are (or can be) your own broadcast company. Many local unions recognize the power of social media, but ask yourself if you are preaching to the choir or preaching to the unconverted. Create content that not only speaks to your current members, but also have a complementary content strategy that preaches to the unconverted. Tell stories of union culture, what it means, why it's important, why it makes a difference in their lives. Produce those messages with intention, in ways they are comfortable receiving it.
Create a "culture counsel" of stewards and other members on the job to be level-headed "keepers of the flame" at work. Guys who know the by-laws and union statutes by rote. Utilize that counsel to help brainstorm messages and content that furthers union principles, on and off the job.
INSERT THE LOCAL INTO THEIR NATURAL PATH: There are interests people naturally gravitate to, and places people naturally spend time. You can take advantage of that. Your members use social media to follow things they are naturally interested in, like sports teams, hobbies, and events. Social media algorithms are excellent at serving up the content in which they are most interested. We can use those algorithms to serve culture messages to them. We do a lot of online and off-line sports sponsorships on behalf of the local unions we work with, yes because we get work, but mostly because that's an interest they naturally gravitate to, where a lot of our members and prospective members naturally spend a lot of time following.
STAY IN TOUCH: Digital newsletters, email and SMS programs, and marketing automation programs are excellent ways to not only communicate the business of the local, but also deliver content that furthers your local union culture and educates your newer members on what it means to be union.
Leveraging Your Local
Many locals have invested money into sport sponsorships with local teams in your jurisdiction. But how are you leveraging that sponsorship? Are your using it to insert your Local into the sponsorship? Are your members involved in telling your story? Are you giving the people you are recruiting and opportunity?
As we all watch the NFL playoffs, I'm reminded of the fun we've had with IBEW Local 915 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. Not only sponsoring the team, but more importantly getting members involved in the ad creative to tell their story themselves. And with the right sponsorship, you can even leverage it to get work for your member, put boots on the ground, and money in your general fund.