Keeping the members informed is one of the basic elements necessary for building and maintaining strong and effective local unions — and a local newsletter can play an important role in helping build good communication.
- Routine and reliable communication remains one of the most important elements in building and maintaining a healthy local union;
- Regular newsletters can play a very important role in maintaining good communication;
- Remember: most people will see what's in the newsletter as the union's "official" position — be thoughtful about how information is included and presented.
Communication with the union membership remains key to having an effective UE Local. Putting out a Union newsletter can help keep the membership informed, although it cannot substitute for regular meetings.
Here are some tips on putting out a local newsletter.
Make it Regular
Set up a schedule for issuing the newsletter and stick to it. Once a month seems to work the best. This gives time to get articles written and it doesn’t become a "chore" that everyone wants to avoid. The employer also knows that their actions will be reported to the membership and it may give them an incentive to fix problems they have created.
Decide Who is "Editor" of the Newsletter
One person needs to be in charge of making sure that the newsletter gets published and distributed on time. This doesn’t mean that this person writes the entire newsletter or that the newsletter belongs to that person. It is just their job to make sure that the newsletter gets written and published. The editor does need some leeway to do their job, and can’t be treated like the person who does the grunt work and has no decision making power.
THE INTERNET AND BEYOND
Using New Technologies
The ways we can communicate with other people is — and has been — undergoing a mind-boggling expansion. From cell phones to blogs to text-messaging to podcasts and You Tube. The changes in communication are revolutionary — and offer us new opportunities to communicate with our members, if it's appropriate.
What you can put in a newsletter, for example, can also be put into an email. It's worth a moment to consider what might be the best approach given the interests of your local union membership.
Do most of your members use computers? Do most like to use email? Do they use any of the evolving technologies? Consider the form of communication might be appropriate and most effective for your local union. Simply building an email list could be a great way of starting out. But — remember to maintain communication with the members who don't use computers, as well.
The Newsletter Belongs to the Union
The newsletter will be read not only by the union membership but by the employer. It will reflect upon the union and will be taken by most people as the "official" union position on issues. Therefore the newsletter must be controlled editorially by the Union Committee, not just by whoever writes an article or by the editor. The newsletter shouldn’t be seen as the "personal" property of the Local President. It will have more "power" when both the members and the employer see it as the viewpoint of the united leadership of the union.
What to Put In the Newsletter?
By making the newsletter a regular affair on a monthly basis it actually becomes easier to put one out. Many local unions only put out newsletters when a crisis occurs or when they are mad at the boss. When this happens, the newsletter becomes a bitter and often times rambling list of pent-up grievances. If an outsider would read these newsletters all at once, they would never believe that the union actually improved the wages and working conditions of the members.
The newsletter should consist of regular columns that report to the membership what has occurred during the previous month.
Chief Steward’s Report
In this column the chief steward can report on the status of grievances that were settled or which grievances are still pending. This report needs to be written with the help of the departmental stewards. It should also report on the unwritten grievances that were settled. These grievances that are settled before they get to the written stage are often times more important than the written grievances. They usually represent the bulk of the problems that get resolved, BUT, because they don’t reach the written stage, many members in other departments don’t hear about them.
How to Report on Grievances
Care needs to be taken with how the union reports on grievances. Usually the reporting needs to be straight forward and factual with a minimal use of "editorial language." Here’s an example:
"On December 5th in Department 100 a grievance was settled on the improper temporary transfer of an employee out of the department. The least senior qualified employee was not transferred. After a discussion between Steward Sally Walker and the department supervisor, the more senior employee was brought back to the department and the least senior employee transferred."
"On December 5th the supervisor of Dept. 100 once again proved his inability to read the contract as he tried to break the union by transferring the most senior employee instead of the least senior. Any moron could read the contract and see this was wrong. The company must have plenty of money to waste if they keep paying the salary of complete idiots."
The second example, while it may be true, can create more problems than it solves. What is usually important to the union membership is that problems get solved, not that the union rubs the boss’s nose in the ground all the time. The second report also creates a situation where the employer feels it necessary to "defend" the supervisor, thus making it more difficult to get future grievances settled. There is a time for speaking the blunt truth, but picking that time wisely is more effective.
Making it Look Good...
And Easy to Read
Here are some tips:
- Don’t worry about filling up every line with words. Leave some blank space.
- Have someone in the workplace design a masthead. With computers today this isn’t too hard a task. If it is, contact the UE News Department and ask them to help you develop a masthead.
- Use cartoons. Maybe your workplace has a cartoonist that would love to see his/her work in print. If not, there are cartoons from the UE that can be used.
- Take photos and use them. With the copiers available today most photographs will come out looking good.
- Check out Chapter 7 of the UE Leadership Guide — it has more good tips on putting out a newsletter.
In this column the Local President (or Shop Chair) can report on other issues facing the union. It could be the problems of kaizan, or team concept that the employer wishes to implement. It could be legislative budget cuts that will affect public employees or it might be the thinking on how to deal with the problem of lack of investment by the owner. This column can address any of the problems that the union faces that can’t be solved through the grievance procedure. If a contract was recently settled, the President can review and explain language changes. This column shouldn’t be used to "toot one’s own horn" but to educate the membership (and the employer also) and raise the big issues.
If there are special standing committees they should have space to repot as needed. Health and Safety Committees can report on workplace inspections or put in general educational material on how to work safely.
UE Political Action
A regular column can be run on UE political action. There is plenty of material from the Washington Office that can be reprinted that explains what is happening or not happening in Washington. The UE Washington Office can provide Locals with material that will explain and educate complicated issues like foreign trade, NAFTA, GATT as well as the dozens of issues confronting working people here at home. Although many Locals post the leaflets from the UE Washington office on union bulletin boards, having them reprinted in a Local newsletter will give them wider readership.
Many Local newsletters run a column reporting on birthdays, births and other highlights of the members’ lives. To make sure you don’t offend anyone by leaving out their birthday make it clear who these items should be submitted to.
Reports from District Council Meetings and the National Convention
Valuable information is obtained by attending District Council meetings and National Conventions. The Local newsletter can be an effective tool for getting this information back to the membership. At most District Council meetings there will be reports on contract settlements. This is important information that the membership should see. What are the trends in wage increases, what are bosses coming after, what language improvements have locals won?
What About Bad News?
Should a local newsletter print reports about bad news? Think of it this way. The employers share information with each other, so your boss probably already knows if some Local had a bad contract provision forced down their throat. It may signal new company strategy. If we don’t tell the membership then they are the only ones left out of the loop and unprepared. In a rank-and-file union there should be no secrets from the membership, good or bad.