Leading in a Union Divided

Leading in a Union Divided

Everyday countless stories litter the internet about union members being divided over this election. Social media is a cesspool of vitriolic comments in every platform from both sides. We run several organizing campaigns, recruiting both members and contractors, and nearly every hour of the day we spend playing "whack-a-mole" in the comment sections, deleting derisive political barbs that have nothing to do with growing the local and putting people to work.

Business Managers have to weigh the benefits of endorsing local and national candidates against the wishes and political leanings of the members whom the serve. They feel the pressure looming down from the international office while feeling the heat locally from the members they are sworn to represent.

Some forge forward with signs in the yard and outreach efforts, while others take the stance of staying out of how members vote, believing it to be more of a personal issue. It's not an easy conundrum to solve and is often an untenable situation where Business Manager finds themself is in a no-win situation.

And what happens after the election? Just because the country and the Local is divided before the election doesn't mean we will all miraculously come together after election day. Still, we have the business of the Local to attend. Meetings, issues, contractor negotiations, grievances, etc. The show must go on. And oh by the way, you've got an election of your own coming up, certainly within the next 3 years if not sooner.

Here are 4 things to think about when it comes to leading your Local in these divisive times:

1) Focus on What Unites Us Rather than What Divides Us

We believe like you believe that organized labor is still a good and imminently necessary movement for this country. Standing up for the rights of the worker provides the most promising pathway to empowerment of the worker and his or her family, a proven pathway to the middle class and American dream of equity and a sense of place in our communities. Everyone wants to do better by themselves and their family. That's something we all agree on. Let's focus on that, because that's something even the most hardened idealogue one way or the other can see themselves in and get behind.

The building trades unions still provide workers with the best training through our apprenticeship programs, and the most prominent way to build a career in construction with great benefits and retirement. At the end of the day, we have a choice. We can focus on what we don't have, or we can focus on what we do have. Focusing on what unites us in the Hall, in our meetings, in our emails, in our social media activity, will help keep our conversations from devolving into a mudslinging mess.

2) Control What You Can Control

For as much as it consternates us, aside from voting, there's not much you can do about the fate of our nation. Whoever wins is whoever wins, and whoever wins isn't concerned about you and your Local despite what they say, I can damn sure assure you of that.

What you can control is the communication you have with your local. That requires strategy.

3) ABC - Always Be Communicating

Whoever said "no news is good news" was never a business manager. When there is no communication, we assume that something is wrong. It's the default setting we come with as human beings. You need to communication clearly and consistently. Even your most hardened adversary will respect clear consistent communication. So, If you don't have a communication strategy you need to develop one.

Cadence is key critical. Develop (or have us do it) a consistent calendar of communication and stick to it religiously. Develop a communication strategy with your e-board, with the members of your local, with your employers/contractors, with your local officials, and with your vendors. Its one of the first things we talk about with the business managers we serve. There are so many wonderful avenues to communicate: videos, emails, texts, social media, podcasts, website language, bulletins, even down to office and meeting protocols.

4) Pick Your Platform

You can also control how you communicate. Not everyone is comfortable on video, or writing, or social media and that's okay. But you DO have a preferred means of communication or you wouldn't be in the position you are in. Figure the medium where you feel most comfortable sharing your thoughts, put a budget behind it, and do it. Consistently. Without fail.

And Finally

As a Business Manager, you must work with your adversaries. Do your best, and don't worry about the rest. For as much as you'd like to find common ground with all the members you serve, sometimes there is just no pleasing some people. At some point you've got to focus on those with whom you have honest disagreements and not worry about those whose purpose it is to make your life (and everyone else around them) difficult no matter what you stand for. There are those on the job, in the hall, in your life who are hellbent on spreading their mayhem and misery on everyone. It's not just you. Cut them loose. What's the old adage?...There's no point in wrestling with a pig. You both get filthy and the pig loves it. Remember, the majority of your membership elected you to lead them, so focus on that. Like my buddy Roy used to say, "You're not a hundred-dollar bill…not everybody is going to like you." And that's okay.

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