Motivating My Members to Get Involved

Ideas from participants in webinars on February 18th, March 18th and April 15th:

  • One topic was improving programs to sign up new hires, because a couple of the large locals, like UFCW 770 and the UNITE HERE at Disneyworld, have constant turnover so there are always new hires. Mr. S is on lost time from his Teamster local until July to develop a New Member kit and program. He sent me some of the handouts they use, and Ms. C has found a 12-page New Member Guide from LIUNA that she is going to share.
  • Another important topic was how to communicate, especially in the pandemic, but in many locals with members spread across a lot of geography and work shifts. It is clear that electronic communications will let us “take the bell to the people,” as one of you said. People suggested using Hustle, though we also found the challenge of the digital divide among our members. More importantly, some of you found that members are on digital overload—they get too many messages from too many different sources and ten to tune out/turn off ones from the union office.
  • One local even has a New Hire Co-Ordinator.
  • It was also stressed that new members need to learn the language of the union, so avoiding “lingo” in materials for them is important.
  • The value of using new technology was illustrated by attendance of 2,000 at a Local 770 meeting.
  • It is also important to celebrate union victories—if you win a big grievance/arbitration, and if there is back pay, make sure your members (and non-members) hear about it. All of the union failures are publicized by our bosses so we have to make sure our members hear the wins.
  • This follows my emphasis on PROACTIVE—if we set the issues and control the discussion, it will be positive for building the union.
  • One thing I want to stress is the importance of record-keeping, especially if you start a new hire program. If your program involves repeated hits—at an orientation, by a steward, at a local meeting, etc., keep track of each member. I know it’s a hassle, especially in a local with turnover, but you don’t want new hires to slip through the cracks.
  • Unfortunately, a couple of you submitted questions that we did not cover: Mr. By was concerned that his public-sector members with using for change outside their political jurisdiction so how can we get them politically involved? In a way, Mr. M had one answer as he described sending out post cards from Cincinnati to voters in Georgia’s recent Senate race.
  • Another question from Ms. F was how to get people to be a steward or a leader when they are “busy with their own life.” “How can I persuade that mentality?” This is certainly a membership motivation question that I know we all have so I wish we had been able to spend some time on it. A similar case came from Liz Eastman who found her high-seniority public employee members were almost too satisfied and secure to do anything different.
  • Text messages to all of the members—several commercial services listed in the chat room
  • Sports teams—to attract more members to non-confrontational activities.
  • New hire orientation
  • Group grievances
  • Improve hew hire orientation so that on each floor, a new member is approached by an existing member
  • Videotaping members’ experiences—for the web site and for new hire orientation, to give a sense of how the benefits were gained
  • Measure our success—keep track on how many members participated in a union activity of any kind
  • Use Google docs to circulate discussions about union issues
  • Follow up new member orientation with a “cheerleader”—an existing member who will promote the union to a new hire in the workplace
  • Expand union activities
  • Get families involved
  • Hold a virtual union fair—attract non-members with a prize
  • Zoom membership meetings to attract members who live far away
  • Stress wearing union insignias (buttons, hats, shirts) at work and in the community
  • “Always have an ask.”
  • “The joyfulness of organizing”
  • Understand the Organizing Model of Unionism—challenge any officer who doesn’t want MMP (Maximum Membership Participation)
  • Be Proactive
  • Get a list of every member (and non-member in an open shop) and set a goal that every one of them will participate in a union activity within a year—keep track of their activity
  • Communications—have every member on a contact list—text/email/Twitter/Instagram—there are a couple of union companies that make setting up a network cheap (Member Data Base Builder?)--set up a Technology Committee to figure the best ways to get to all of your members—create a local web page, and be sure to include labor history so new members understand how they get what they have—be aware of generational differences in communicating with your members
  • You can even have personal contact!—The most important word in communications is spelled L-I-S-T-E-N
  • New hire orientation-
  • Have a new member kit—include a copy of the contract and other union benefits
  • Make them “members,” not just dues payers
  • Alert stewards to each new hire so the organizing will continue
  • Social functions—even though your union treasury may be down, and you can’t do the expensive events like trips to an amusement park, you can do
  • Wine and painting at your union hall
  • Game night
  • Face painting and Halloween
  • Vaccine clinic
  • Softball and an inexpensive cookout
  • The AFSCME Local at the Library of Congress raised a substantial amount of money from members for the cafeteria workers, displaced by COVID
  • Zoom meetings and parties
  • Political canvassing and doorknocking, though this can create controversies among your members
  • Sports teams
  • Do membership surveys—what activities do they want—will they participate
  • Union visibility—get members to wear union badges/caps/shirts at work and in their communities
  • Create joint activities with other unions in your building
  • Schedule membership meetings so every shift can attend—put up union bulletin boards
  • Create events just for your stewards—combination of social and training


  • Here’s a great new discussion on delegating responsibility as part of getting your members involved

    Bill Barry
  • The current situation with the President supporting Union growth is such an opportunity. In the Federal sector right now he’s even given us the ability to negotiate numbers, types & grades of employees assigned to an organizational subdivision, project, tour of duty etc, and the methods means & technology of doing the work. That is HUGE – it means the people that DO the work and know what it TAKES to do the work get to have a VOICE in it all – and we need to take advantage of that while we have it. Just got off a Zoom with Cong. Grace Meng where she was saying the same about a limited amount of time to pass labor-friendly legislation. The Biden EO (14003) which took out Trump’s anti-labor EO’s is awesome, but while some Agencies have backed off and given our locals their space & time back some are still fighting it.

    So of course along with the opportunities comes the challenge of getting people INVOLVED. We’ve got a relatively new tool called Broadstripes that lets Locals text all members a short message (great for “hey we will be calling all members this week” or “Reminder: membership meeting Wednesday at 4:30”) or send email. And it has a call center. Starting to get my Locals involved in making the calls and I think this outreach is essential to strengthening that bond with their members and INVOLVING them.

    But it’s one of the biggest challenges as you know. I was thinking this morning I need to find ways to have a wider impact – to reach the members & prospective members as well as the Local leaders I interact with now. Letter to the editor? Editorial? Tons of SM posts? All of that and what else? I don’t want to look back later and wish I had done more.

    Robin Johnson
  • Ways that we’ve been able to increase member engagement is through:
    •diversifying our communication channels and not just sending out information but inviting members to engage in discourse via:
    *our private BTU member Facebook page
    *Website Forum
    *Updating our website weekly and housing certain information only on our website to draw traffic to our website
    *supporting and identifying members to give board comment
    *having rank and file members plan actions and campaigns that address their concerns
    *we have a show called LisTEN where we have members come on to tell the President their thoughts; it’s kind of like “The View”
    *we send out weekly email blasts with information that extends beyond the union world
    *on every sign in sheet or registration form we ask a question about involvement (ex. Did you complete the Living Wage survey? Can you speak at the next board meeting? Would you like to help plan the BR retreat?)

    Diamonté Brown
  • Like Bill mentioned above, we have put together some short videos and power points to do quick tailgate style training on union history and how and why and what our rights are. Extra emphasis is mostly with teaching the newer members. The old dinosaurs would be welcome to come back but it is exhausting to try to engage some of them. We had some help from one of our labor training outfits which made for the short and informative presentations to keep their attention. One might be steps of a claim or a discipline hearing, and another would be some of the dark days like the Chicago Haymarket or the Ludlow Massacre.

    Michael S.
  • Great ideas to engage members!


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