One of the challenges facing unions today is maintaining a loyal membership. A common denominator in maintaining a loyal membership is communication. However, communication involves a lot more than passing down information from union officials to members. Psychologists that study groups who work together over a long period say that in order to keep people motivated and interested they must be included. This means they must be made part of what’s going on, be included in the group, and not be made to feel like an outsider. As union communicators we should take into account our audience, in other words our readership when preparing our publications by keeping the following points in mind:
- Is the paper published on a regular basis so members are aware that the union is always working to protect their interests?
- Does the publication include labor or postal union history information?
- Are longtime members periodically interviewed for a newsletter article about how pay and conditions were in the post office many years ago as compared to today because of the union?
- Does the local recognize membership loyalty by honoring members in various ways for achieving union membership milestones; such as: listing their names and/or printing their photos in the paper for 5, 10, 15, 20, etc. years of union membership?
- Does the publication use every opportunity to include the membership in the paper; such as a “Members Speak Out” column whereby randomly selected members are asked their opinion on various issues?
- Do stories in the paper about grievance settlements include direct quotes from members affected by the union’s efforts?
- Are members recognized in the union publication for their volunteer efforts in the community?
- Does the publication use every opportunity to include photographs of members participating in various union activities?
Given the appropriate content, a union paper will be read. Why? Based on experience, union publications that employ what is called “member-oriented” labor journalism enjoy an extremely high readership. Member-oriented labor journalism involves using the suggestions cited above, which is simply including the rank and file members in the publication. In other words, telling the union’s story through the experiences of its members. By including the membership in the paper, by making it the “member’s publication,” two things will happen. Readership will increase and members will be more likely to see the union as their organization and as a result are more inclined to be supportive.
Remember, people like to read about people, themselves first and others second. By striving to bring a human touch to a union publication and including the membership, the paper becomes much more interesting to read and the union is less likely to be perceived as an institution or a clique being run by a few. The idea is to develop the paper into a forum for an exchange of ideas and a place to share the experiences of members not only at work, but in other aspects of their lives as well.
The reasons for publishing a union newsletter extend beyond the need to inform the membership about the business of the union. As communicators we must remember that members are the lifeblood of the union and the union’s strength depends on the loyalty of its members. Adopting a style of membership inclusion and education in our publications is a step towards maintaining a loyal membership.