In order to establish a first class representational program a union needs a lot more than skilled reps to present cases and advise locals.  It is just as vital that it have an excellent training program aimed at not just local officers and stewards, but also members. Why?  Because the more they know about their rights under law, regulation and contract, the more likely they are to spot problems and realize that the union can help them.  The American school system spends more time covering the War of the Roses than it does the rights students will have as workers over the next 50 or so years of their lives. Consequently, unions have little choice but to fill that gap if they want to build employee support and boost organizational clout. But how can they do that given the enormous costs of such a venture and access obstacles? Here is what AFGE has done.

It is hiring a Technological Education Specialist to develop online courses as well as write and produce video programs, interactive computer programs, etc., for use in the field by AFGE staff, locals, councils or university-based programs. This person will also develop ways to track the development of union leaders.  The union is requiring that they be proficient with online educational software, such as Blackboard, Articulate, HTML, Captivate, Camtasia and Moodle.  This is great news for federal sector unions from where we sit.  Supplementing, if not shifting away from, periodic face-to-face training sessions by aggressively using technology cuts costs, vastly increases the amount of training a union can provide, and permits participants to enter at different levels and move at their own pace.  As the AFGE position vacancy notes, it also would permit unions and the individuals in the classes to track and measure their progress.

For example, the union could distribute weekly mini-training modules on a unit’s contract to everyone covered by the contract. One week it could cover something as specific as FMLA rights for those with chronic problems and the next the ten most common performance appraisal errors.

Or it could provide a semester long course in employment law with college credits.  It could even tap local union leaders to train one another, e.g., if one has success recruiting around a timely issue, she could discuss what she did on a video or webinar for other local representatives to see when they wish.

Or, if the union has just finished negotiating a mid-term I&I agreement over a new time-keeping system management is installing, it could brief/train all the impacted employees on their rights under the agreement. Frankly, they should be able to negotiate official time for impacted employees to take the training if it is short and on-line.  Today, it is beyond ridiculous for a union to ask an agency to provide time on the clock for employees covered by a new nationwide midterm agreement to assemble somewhere for a training session that might last only 15 minutes.

Like any other organization that wants a future, unions had better be thinking deeply every week about how they are going to get to, survive in, and even prosper from the future. Procrastination and risk-adverse thinking are just as much a threat as the worst anti-union agency manager out to crush the union.

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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