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AFL-CIO NOW

Why Communicate?
Never Assume Anything
Jun 23, 2010

by Tony Carobine, President

There was a story published in The New Yorker magazine about a doctor whose telephone rang one night awakening him from fitful slumber. It was one of his regular patients, a young man in a wild state of alarm. “My wife, Doctor!” he shouted. “It’s her appendix. You’d better come around quick!”

The doctor sighed and told the young man to go back to bed. “Give her some bicarbonate or ginger ale, and I’ll look in tomorrow,” he said. “She doesn’t have appendicitis.”

The husband became even wilder, insisting that she did too have appendicitis. “Well, she can’t have appendicitis!” the doctor shouted. “I took her appendix out three years ago, and I never heard of anyone having two appendixes.”

“Ever hear of anybody having two wives?” the young man asked bitterly.

The doctor went around right away and it was a good thing he did, because the second wife did have appendicitis.

This story teaches us an important lesson about why we should never assume anything. This is especially true in regard to union membership. Because you are a union activist, you are keenly aware that without the union we certainly would not have the standard of living we enjoy today, or the opportunity to provide a decent life for our families or ourselves. This is not to say that everything is perfect. No system or organization is. However, without the union we could never have achieved the gains that have been made and maintained over the years.

As actively involved union representatives, we shouldn’t assume that all members or prospective members are aware of the value of the union and importance of union involvement. In fact most workers entering the workforce for the past several years come from families that have no prior history of unionism. Through no fault of their own, they have no knowledge about unions or the purpose and necessity for them. Adding to the problem is the lack of labor education in the schools, and the mostly negative impressions generated by the mainstream media about unions.

Research indicates that a majority of people entering the workforce mistakenly believe that by law they are guaranteed such benefits as paid holidays, vacation and sick leave among other benefits and protections. In reality, absent a union contract, workers aren’t guaranteed anything, but instead are classified as “at will” employees - serving at the will of their employer.

A look into the history of the labor movement reveals that most victories came about because of rank and file participation. The recipe for a strong, successful union is membership involvement. While we can single-handedly represent members in the grievance procedure, we cannot do so when it comes to other matters of importance to postal workers, such as privatization schemes, legislative initiatives, or electing individuals to public office who support working families. These activities, among others, require a collective effort by members and officers alike.

As a result of all this, we must strive to become union educators, the preachers of the gospel of unionism. And, to be effective, this must be a continuous effort. Studies have revealed that in order for a message to become memorable and effective, it must be repeated many times.

Given the lack of prior knowledge and exposure to unions by a growing number of members and prospective members, we must keep in mind that “automatic loyalty” and commitment to the union doesn’t just happen today as was commonplace in the past. Furthermore, while union officers and activists generally have a firm attachment to the union, this is not the case for most members. Building an attachment is an area that demands constant attention.

The union’s strength and vigor depend on the commitment and loyalty of members. An educated, committed, proud and supportive membership is the necessary foundation for success in everything the union does. As the late labor leader Eugene Debs said: “What can labor do for itself? The answer is not difficult. Labor can organize, it can unify, it can consolidate its forces. This done, it can demand and command!”

We should never assume anything. We should never assume that members will remain in the union if we don’t communicate with them. We should never assume that just because someone dropped out of the union they would never rejoin. We should never assume that someone who never joined the union could not be persuaded to join. We should never assume anything!

 

 

 

 

 


Without Communication we will Fail
Jun 23, 2010

by Lance A. Coles, Editor-at-Large

When dictators or insurgents take over a country, one of the first things they do is shut down the free press and replace it with their own propaganda machine. This is a lesson in the vital importance of communication.

We, as postal workers and labor editors, are in the communication business – and once we stop or reduce our communication – we will fail! As our membership numbers decline due to retirements and postal firing, so does the income the national and locals receive – thus how money is spent changes. People that do not see the big picture think that reducing the local’s newspaper publication frequency or pages is the answer to economic woes – they are wrong!

We are not just a grievance machine. We – the APWU – are supposed to educate and agitate – we have to get the membership involved and prepared for what is coming. If we don’t communicate – through our local publication – how will they know of the coming conflicts?

There is no doubt that sacrifices will have to be made in every part of every local’s budgets, and the newspapers will be part of that. If there is a way to keep communication flowing, then it needs to be considered. We have the contractual right for bulletin boards in all postal facilities. Many of these are not very accessible to read, and are usually poorly maintained and updated – the members tend to not read them. It is important that someone in every local, at every plant, station, BMC and associate office, keep the union bulletin boards current and readable. If they are not where the members can read them, ask to have them moved to a better place.

Along with the bulletin board, local presidents are encouraged to do a weekly flyer that keeps the members current on issues, where the newspaper may not afford the timeliness. Put these flyers on the bulletin boards. Make them stand out and each week use different color, ink or artwork.

The membership wants information, and the newspaper is a great one to provide large articles of information, pictures of members and reports – but give the membership more. Post the flyers or hand them out in the break rooms or at entrances.

If the newspapers have to give something to help the budget, then look at the use of different paper stock. Consider combining publications with other locals nearby or other unions. Sell advertising. (Please contact the PPA for assistance before engaging in the acceptance of advertising.)

If the union shuts down their communication process, they are suppressing the memberships’ right to communication and the members will soon feel they have been alienated from their union and will revolt in their own way.

The dictators and insurgents shut down the media because they don’t want the truth to be told. The members of the union will think the same if the union stops or reduces their communication.

Don’t just stop or reduce your publication – look at creative ways to continue. The survival of the union depends on it!

 

 

 


Who Needs a Union Publication?
Jun 25, 2010

Your Members do!

Members who know what’s going on – where they fit in and what they can do – are likely to be more active, and more committed. That kind of membership is what every union needs. So, if the union is going to function effectively, all members need to be informed.

In fact, making sure that members know about the union’s programs, achievements, goals, and people is one of the most important jobs of every local union leader.

No matter how good, everything can be improved. Maintaining a publication does not mean that local officers have not been doing their job of communication – it does mean the job will be made easier and more efficient.

For instance, one place a member learns about the union is at the regular membership meeting. But, it’s a fact of life – not all members can go to regular meetings every time. Some who might be interested or can’t attend at all.

In some places, unfortunately not many do. There are schedule conflicts, family obligations, distances to travel. Sometimes people just don’t know when or where meetings are being held. Others, not knowing much about the union, feel excluded.

Whatever the reason, many of those members who don’t make it to the meetings are (or could be) interested. They want to know what the union is doing. It is their right to know.

How are members learning about their union? Some locals post the minutes of the meeting on a bulletin board, along with countless other announcements and notices. How many people read them?

Of course, there is always word of mouth. However, the story can change from one person to the next. Most often it does. Details get lost; facts become confused.

There is the national union publication that each member receives. But, its focus necessarily is 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 union cannot.

This means that the local union paper is the most important vehicle for communicating the union’s message to members.

It’s the local publication that fills the communications gap. Here’s what a newsletter can and will do:

  • Makes union news easily accessible – only the effort of reading it is necessary. 
  • Informs – it tells members what the local has done to protect them, what the officers who represent them are doing, what activities are being planned and what members are interested in. 
  • Sets the record straight – written by and about union members, its points of view is that of the members themselves. It directly answers the question, “How does this event affect me?” It can address rumors started by management to divide members by presenting the workers’ (and the union’s) side of the story. 
  • Promotes identification with the union – it draws people together, reinforcing each member’s feeling of belonging. The paper can help to define the local union as an ongoing presence in members’ minds.   
  • Educates – what better way to explain how the union represents the membership on the workroom floor. Using real situations, it teaches in a way that a dictionary or academic textbook cannot.   
  • Motivates – when people know something about an organization like the local union, when they know more about other members and officers, they are more likely to want to participate. Knowing about an issue or an event is the first step towards saying, “I want to be part of this.”  
  • Involves – everyone has some talent. Members are all creative and knowledgable in their own individual ways. Most people, given the opportunity, like to share what they know with others. The union publication tells people about those opportunities.
  • Gives recognition – it reinforces that motivation to join in by letting other members know about what you, or he, or she, did for the local. And it’s hard to resist seeing your own name in print.
  • Reaches beyond the local union membership – while it’s building union pride, that newsletter can be reinforcing the benefits of belonging to current members and serves as an organizing tool for nonmembers.

Your local’s goal should be to establish open, direct communication with all of the members. A local union paper is a valuable key to that communication.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Communication: An Important Responsibility
Jun 25, 2010

Communication is said to take place when an idea is transmitted from one point and is understood at another point. It is essential that both the sender and the receiver understand just what is to be communicated. If the sender has not chosen an effective means of expressing his or her idea, nor proper evidence to support the idea, it is unlikely that the receiver will accept or understand the message.

Unions exist to serve the interests of their members. Union offices are elected by the members to administer the affairs of the union. This democratic process imposes upon all union officials the obligation to communicate with the membership on matters that may influence the pursuit of the members’ interests as individuals and as members of the union.

The members are entitled to know their rights and obligations afforded by membership in the union. The activities of union officers that are directed at the achievement of objectives for the union should be known to the members. All activities of the union should be well-publicized. No union member should be allowed the excuse of, “I didn’t hear or see a word about it.”

Lack of communication within an organization can seriously weaken unity of purpose and direction, and from this, lower the effectiveness of the whole organization.

Communication is the means by which we relate to each other. Effective communication promotes understanding, acceptance and action. Ineffective or inadequate communication fosters suspicion, misunderstanding and hostility. Members cannot adopt positive courses of action unless they are informed.


A Service to the Members
Jun 25, 2010

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.

Why communicate?

 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.

Important service

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.

 

 

 


Communication: Key to Loyal Membership
Jun 25, 2010

One of the biggest 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 research, 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.

 




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