NFFE BECOMES A BENCHMARK UNION
In real estate it is Location, Location, Location. In unions it is Membership, Membership, Membership that is the single most important, quantitative measure of the quality of a union. For years we have shined a spotlight on AFGE which for 18 consecutive years increased its net membership over the previous year. No other federal employee union did that, making AFGE a union against which other unions should measure themselves. But it appears we missed what was happening at NFFE. Since the end of 2006 NFFE has had a 43% net increase in membership. Even AFGE only had a 41% growth rate during that time. That is great news for NFFE and moves it onto our list of unions that other organizations should benchmark themselves against. If your union has not had a long string of consecutive years with significant net membership growth like AFGE or failed to pile up a double-digit overall growth percentage like NFFE and AFGE over the last dozen years, then it is time to examine operations. Look especially for signs you are still trying to recruit members like we did in the 80’s. If your recruiting program relies solely on flyers, posters, and once a year sign-up tables in the cafeteria, you have a problem—and you have had it for at least a decade. Today, unions must be just as aggressive as Walmart or any other private business scrambling for market share. For example, if Walmart leaders were running a union it likely would be –
- Analyzing bargaining unit data to target non-members, e.g., every steward should real-time, online access to data showing who the non-members are in the area s/he represents, who the non-members are covered by a union-filed group grievances, etc.
- Tracking (and reacting to) monthly membership figures,
- Identifying and targeting areas of low membership,
- Offering money incentives for signing up new members, becoming a new member, and reaching local goals,
- Linking staff salaries to membership growth,
- Basing most of a staff member’s evaluation on membership growth in his/her assigned areas (Gone are the days where a union staff is good at the job just because he represents employees well),
- Distributing attractive union assignments based on a local leader’s membership stats, e.g., assignments to bargaining teams, convention committees, labor-management committees, etc.
- Developing membership email lists as well as going after other social media meeting points,
- Regularly sending out e-information aimed at educating employees about what rights they have and how the union can secure good things for them (If employees do not know what you can do for them, why should they support you),
- Weekly publicizing even small wins on e-mail and other social media,
- Soliciting employee input on items of interest to them, whether by a survey or just an e-mail response,
- Telling employees about workplace matters before their own managers do, e.g., changes the union was recently notified of and will soon bargain over,
- Bargaining for data that enables the union to file large mass grievances on behalf of unit employees. For example, alleging age discrimination in the awards or promotion programs would give the union the right to not only establish a more personal link with the covered employees, but it should also get the union data that it might not otherwise be able to access.
Building membership is not only the MOST IMPORTANT task union reps have, but it should be approached just as if they ran a Walmart that wanted to break into a market controlled by other stores and established buying habits. Use every available tool and invent some new ones. Walmart is not a success because it offers a good product. Success is selling the product.
NFFE knows it has a long way to go on membership if for no other reason than agencies know they do and use the current NFFE membership picture to resist its influence. But Bill Duggan and now Randy have created a very good trend that we hope continues for a decade or more.