Building Union Strength and Credibility through Political Action and Media Communications
August 4, 2012
By Neal Tepel
A successful labor organization projects an image of strength and importance. The perception that a union has political muscle is a tremendous asset to achieving goals and objectives. The ability to promote a legislative agenda, negotiate with employees, resolve grievances, develop relationships with public officials, are all linked to the perception of political influence.
The image of a labor organization is shaped by design not chance. This requires sophisticated organizational management, effective utilization of technology and union representatives that are courteous, knowledgeable and professional. A highly organized operation, regardless of size, can be a political powerhouse. The successful union should have the capacity to instantaneously communicate with members, legislators, common interest groups, and news reporters. Regular technological improvements may be needed to provide efficiency and effectiveness in the communication process.
A comprehensive political and media operation is a necessary component for a union. Gaining the ability to communicate at the highest levels of government is invaluable and needs to be a goal of every political program. Building allies in community based organizations are also important. Worker priority issues are often similar to the concerns of local communities and can be disseminated to media outlets through a variety of sources or affiliated associations. Developing a working relationship with representatives of the press is time consuming, but pays dividends. Advertising in local newspapers should always be an option and is particularly effective when combined with news coverage, a political campaign, and support from the community.
An essential part of city and state lobbying must include not only relationships with the Mayor, Governor, City Council, and State Legislature, but also the City and State Comptroller’s Office, Public Advocate’s Office, city and state agencies, and political parties. Although it’s important to lobby at the state level for funding or needed legislation, follow-up activities must take place within city government in order to complete the process. The key to success is often visibility and persistence. Participation and attendance at hearings and meetings regarding municipal and community services, government operations, and city budget, are an important part of gaining influence. Even attending the Mayor’s bill signing ceremonies can provide necessary visibility.
A labor organization’s membership resources can become very potent when combined with technological advances in political strategy. Today we can easily track member information including their voting and legislative home and work districts. A variety of systems allow us to communicate easily with members through blast emailing, call-outs, fax communication to work sites, web availability, and other methods of reaching constituents. Harnessing the manpower of a labor organization in promoting a legislative agenda becomes particularly valuable when matching members to legislative districts.
There are many tools available to unions for the dissemination of information. Legislative receptions, lobby day activities, and conferences can be effective ways to communicate concerns and gain support. A union’s endorsement process is an opportunity to discuss issues with future legislators. Distributing a newsletter to selected groups as well as members allows for union information to reach a broader constituency. Web pages and search engines now provide a mechanism for interactive communication between a union and the public.
Building an influential union requires a broad intergovernmental strategy as well as a comprehensive plan to utilize membership resources. Political and media effectiveness when used prudently can be a tremendous asset to a labor organization.