How much should national union leaders offer for each new SF-1187?  NTEU has offered $25.00 incentives, AFGE $50.00, and NFFE $100.00.  What is the right amount?

As far as we are concerned, whatever it takes.  (We will admit to a bias at FEDSMILL.com.  We believe membership building is the most important responsibility every union leader has. More important than negotiating contracts, winning grievances, pushing favorable legislation and stopping unfavorable bills.  Those are all close seconds, but still just in second place. After all, union can’t afford to do them nor do them well without broad membership backing—somewhere around 75% of the unit.  What manager in his or her right mind would care what a union leader with 17% membership says—or even 37%?)

As for which amount is most rational in an objective sense, it is hard to figure out.  NTEU’s declared assets exceed its liabilities by about $17 million; AFGE’s assets are $20 million less than its liabilities; and NFFE claims over $5 million in assets, but not a nickel in liabilities.  Those figures suggest that AFGE should be paying the most to rebalance its asset-liability ratio.

When you look at dues collected, AFGE gets about $240 from each member each year; NTEU appears to get about $325 when you divide its declared membership number into its total declared dues income; and using the same math NFFE appears to be getting about $240.00. By that math, NTEU should be paying the highest incentive given how much each 1187 is worth.

Finally, looking at the results shows that AFGE has increased its total membership by over 83,000 over the last ten years for about a 40% growth in size. NTEU increased the size of its membership by about 10,000 over the same period of time for about a 14% boost.  NFFE membership has remained flat over ten years.  That math suggests that NFFE should be working the hardest, and it is.  But with apparently very poor results.

We can understand why AFGE can’t afford more, but the real mystery is why NTEU is so stingy. They can afford it more than the others, they get more out of it than the others, and according the Department of Labor & OPM reports they have many, many agency units where membership is far below 50%.

Dollar incentive campaigns can be tricky to run.  Who do you offer the money to—the new member or the recruiter?  FEDSMILL.com leans toward the recruiter because rewarding a recruiter has more long term benefits than rewarding the single member.

Do you offer the money throughout the year or just during short windows?  If you do the latter, will not recruiters and prospective members hold back until that period each year?

Should everyone get the same amount or should unions pay larger incentives to those locals with the poorest membership. Candidly, FEDSMILL.com leans toward paying those locals below 50% membership more than those over 80%.  We know there is an inequity there, but the entire union stands to get stronger if it increases the strength of its weakest links. 

Should the local itself get some reward in addition to the money paid the individual recruiter?  Should individual recruiters not only get the cash incentive, but also a chance to get even more if they hit certain targets, e.g., a chance to win something from a lottery for each 1187 signed?  (We like that idea.) Should everyone be allowed to recruit and earn the money or should the local limit those eligible so that it picks the best potential recruiters and gives them a chance to earn from a larger group per recruiter?  (We like that idea.)  Should each local be invited to design its own incentive plan and if approved by the national office receive the cash to distribute as it sees most effective?  (We like this idea too.  One size never seems to fit all.)

Cash incentive SF-1187 programs are indispensible to union growth.  They should not be used with serious strategic thinking by the national union leaders listening to their local leaders.  It is hard to imagine what the retail industry would look like without sales and incentives.  Unions should learn from waht they do and do it even better.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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2 Responses to

  1. Peter Winch says:

    I’d like to encourage you to actually call the three unions and ask them how their incentive programs work, as some of your ideas, like additional incentives, are already in place, and others are not in line with the facts. In general, the incentive amounts do vary in amount and duration, and are sometimes split between recruiter and new member, or given directly to the Local or Chapter from the national. As came out in the TSA campaign, the assets/liabilities equation is misleading in regards to AFGE. The entire amount of $20 mil deficit is an accounting fiction, made necessary by recent changes in reporting requirements, and reflects only the fact that AFGE offers health care to its retired employees, which used to be normal for most employers but is now considered to be some kind of “unfunded mandate”. NFFE is not an independent, stand-alone entity. NTEU centralizes almost all monies in its central office, with only around 10% returned to Chapters. AFGE and NFFE keep closer to a 50-50 split with their locals. The details of how the incentive programs work will not be available just from looking at the filings. You are right on your main point, though–incentives do work, mainly as an ice-breaker, conversation starter and cover for those who want an “alibi” for why they joined.

  2. Alan D. Mulherin says:

    Upon becoming President of NTEU Chapter 141 in 2005 (and as a former National Rep for AFGE) I was rather surprised at the low membership percentage in our Chapter and the extremely low amount coming back to the Chapter as a function of per-capita. Shortly after taking the helm, I held a meeting to increase the percentage of dues being collected by NTEU National that were to be returned to the Chapter. In so doing, we likewise increased our ability to offer 1187 incentives. In 2008 our membership was at 40%. We began offering $100 per 1187 and as of our last reporting period are now at 84.6%. A dues structure that enables the Chapter to provide effective representation and grievance processing through arbitration when necessary coupled with good sign on incentives are of immeasurable benefit to the success of a Chapter, Local, Lodge, or whatever your organization calls it! Rest assured we are not cheap; and we are growing to show for it!

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