In this time of tight budgets mainly due to declining membership, local and state organizations are continually looking for ways to reduce operating costs. From time to time, one area that may be placed under consideration for savings is the main vehicle a union uses to communicate with its members, the union publication.
While there are ways to lower the costs associated with publishing a newsletter, organizations should carefully think about the possible consequences before proceeding to either discontinue or reduce the frequency of how often the paper is published.
Without the membership being well informed, without a form of communication to provide direction, and absent a forum for members to express their views, how can we expect to maintain a strong union? Reducing the union’s visibility will also work to disconnect members from their union and may eventually leave them wondering if they should retain their membership. If anything, our efforts to communicate should be increased; for if we are to continue to be successful, our members need to be informed.
Publishing a union newsletter should not be thought of as a thorn in an organization’s budget but as a vital and necessary service that members receive in return for paying union dues.
The most effective way to reach all members remains the union publication. The newsletter gives the union identity and is something tangible; something members can see, and given the fact that a majority of members unfortunately do not attend union meetings, the union paper is the union for many people. Mailed to the membership, the union newsletter brings the union into the homes of our members, and is a document that can be read at the member’s leisure.
Let’s take a look at some of the many other reasons for maintaining a union publication for the membership:
A considerable amount of work the union does is not visible. If members aren’t informed about what the union does, what’s been achieved because of the union, or kept abreast of current issues, how can they be expected to get involved or be supportive?
Most members don’t attend union meetings. In order to reach all members another form of communication must be used, namely the union publication. Without an ongoing form of communication with the membership what are they going to assume? The union is doing nothing, a useless organization! Will members continue to pay dues or be supportive if an organization appears to do nothing? The attitude of “to hell with the members if they don’t attend the union meeting to find out what’s going on” may sound macho but in reality only works to undermine support for the union.
Union activists are aware of the importance of the union. However, it must be remembered that most members don’t have the same attachment, especially young members who probably weren’t exposed to unions before being hired at the post office. Educating and organizing is an ongoing effort. Therefore, it’s necessary to continually explain the purpose of the union and the valuable service it provides.
Studies have shown that in order for a message to become unforgettable, it must be repeated many times! How does this apply to unions? To successfully create and maintain membership interest and thus build a stronger union, communicating with all members on a regular basis must be a priority. Anything less and the desired results will not be achieved. In other words, it’s not enough to “sell the union” to a prospective member during orientation and expect them to instantly become loyal union members forever, it’s something that must be stated over and over again throughout their careers.
The workroom floor is a breeding ground for rumors that work to undermine the good efforts put forth by union officers to represent the membership. Rumors are especially detrimental in locals that don’t communicate with their members. Without any official source of information, rumors tend to become “fact” and work to tear down the union. Keeping the membership informed can stop damaging rumors and create more solidarity among the membership.
Communicating with members via a union publication (and when possible, additional forms of communication such as a website, bulletin boards, periodic bulletins) is critically important. It helps shape organizational vision and promotes the feeling that “we are all in this together.” With the appropriate content, a publication educates, provides motivation, and gives the local identity. This is especially meaningful since a majority of members may never file an individual grievance and therefore may wonder what they’re getting in return for paying dues. A union paper can demonstrate that the union does more than file grievances and has a lot to offer its members.
There is the national union publication that each member receives. But its focus is necessarily different from what your local might have; after all, that publication is designed to inform all members of the union. Events of concern to all appear in those pages – but day-to-day issues of your local (or state) union cannot.
Reducing production costs
As previously mentioned, there are ways to lower the costs of publishing a paper without discontinuing or reducing the frequency of how often the paper is published. Following are some suggestions:
Mailing. Publications that mail their paper as a flat can reduce postage costs simply by folding the paper into letter size (the most common size newsletter, 8½x 11 becomes eligible for the letter size rate simply by folding it in half.)
Printing bids. The prices that printers charge to produce a paper can vary greatly. Occasionally seeking competitive bids will ensure the paper is being printed at the lowest possible cost. (See the member’s only section of the PPA website for assistance with preparing a printing bid specification form.)
Plain paper. Uncoated paper stock costs less than coated stock (shiny paper).
Advertising. Include advertising from businesses in a publication’s geographic area. (See the PPA booklet, Advertising for the Union Publication elsewhere on this website for step-by-step help with establishing an advertising program.)
Number of pages. Slightly reducing the number of pages contained in the newsletter, or occasionally supplementing a two-sided 8½ x 14 bulletin for a full issue is yet another way to keep members connected with their union through a union publication while at the same time reducing costs.
Seeking ways to reduce costs while maintaining a service of informing the membership through the union publication involves work, creativity, and imagination but in the long run will serve the union much better than simply passing a motion at a union meeting to discontinue publishing or reducing a newsletter’s frequency. Remember, publishing a union newsletter should be thought of as a vital and necessary service that members receive in return for paying union dues.
While contract administration is an important service the union provides, so should communication with the membership in the form of a union publication. After all, without supportive members we will not have an effective union; without active members we will not have the people needed to serve the membership as officers; and without members we will not have a union.