Communication Is the Key
(This article first appeared in the Nov-Dec 2017 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)
By Secretary-Treasurer Liz Powell
In most local unions, the primary means of communicating with the membership is at the general union meeting. However, if this is the only way to communicate with members, the local will not be very successful getting their message out to the members.
Just like in most organizations, a small percentage of the membership takes an active role in the union and attends meetings. Although there are some exceptions, generally this is common.
The challenge for local union officials is getting the “word” out. The formal ways we communicate are at meetings, in local newsletters, online (via websites and social media), bulletin boards and in this magazine. None of these outlets, however, give us the opportunity to quickly inform members of important issues. This has been a challenge magnified by the fact that over half of our members are not in large facilities anymore, and are spread out into stations, branches and associate offices.
Set the Record Straight
Have you ever marveled at how quickly a rumor can spread in the workplace? The word gets around without any of the formal communications we normally rely upon. That’s because informal communication is taking place among members in the break area, bathrooms, while working, in parking lots and at social gatherings.
A “map” of your members in the workplace is an important tool to start using this informal communications network to reach our members. The map helps identify what we call “floor leaders,” the people who other workers go to for information or help. Once identified, local officers and stewards should spread the word directly to these floor leaders – they can also be tapped for feedback on workplace issues. Mapping can also identify the telegraphers – those members who are sure to spread the word.
The floor leaders are men and women respected by their fellow co-workers. Even though they do not want to serve as officers or stewards, they may be willing to listen and comment on issues important to the members and the union. Telegraphers can usually be relied upon to spread the word, regardless. But this time, instead of gossip, they will be talking about their jobs, their union and their futures.
Your Union Bulletin Board
Recruiting floor leaders will not be as helpful when the membership is spread out in different facilities. That’s why the union bulletin board is one of the most vital forms of communication to your membership. It is how your members who do not attend meetings, do not have access to the web or do not read their newsletter get information from the union. For those members who don’t have regular one-on-one contact with their local officers and stewards, that bulletin board is the face of their union.
A neglected bulletin board is the enemy of effective workplace communication. Members won’t look to it for information because no one bothers to keep it current. That’s why every local union should have someone assigned to keep their board updated and free of unauthorized postings.
Why is communicating so important? As this article goes to press, the APWU is fighting for the very survival of the Postal Service and preparing for upcoming contract negotiations. We have an urgent need to get our members mobilized, and to get legislation passed that will allow the Postal Service to continue to serve the American public. We cannot mobilize our members if they are not educated and informed about the issues.
We need those person to person discussions, based on the facts, to move our members to action. This will not be the only time we will need to get the word out. We will always need to find effective ways to communicate to our members.
I would like to wish all of the members of the APWU happy holidays and a prosperous New Year.