Sunday, November 13, 2011

Unions Labor to Embrace Social Media?

The following article was published on, written by Rob Salkowitz, a writer and consultant focusing on the social implications of new technology.  After reading it, my comment that I left behind is as follows:
While I definitely agree with most of this article, and quite honestly, it encompasses the core of why I do what I do, I don't think you give labor enough credit. I've noticed a significant growth in labor's usage of social media in just the past six months. There is a very strong representation of labor union members and organizations on FB and Twitter, oodles of blogs, websites and technology providers that cater strictly to labor unions. Labor even has - the FB equivalent for union members only.
Yes, growth is slow, especially when you consider how many local unions exist in this country, compared to how many even have websites. However, we can't overlook the tremendous progress that has been made by some. I truly believe the labor movement is on the cusp of a great insurgency, and the increasing momentum of the online labor movement will fuel it.

Unions Labor to Embrace Social Media

The labor movement was into mass collaboration before it was cool. When union leaders were talking about solidarity, collective bargaining, and the idea of “one big union” connecting the global working class, the telephone was not yet a common appliance, much less the Internet. However, few institutions have been slower to embrace the innovations of the past decade than organized labor, despite the potential advantages that social media could provide across many aspects of their operations.

Lately that’s starting to change. Last month, a diarist at the left-wing political site Daily Kos documented a unique campaign to organize workers at the Anheuser–Busch InBev Metal Container Corporation in Newburgh, N.Y. Workers set up a community site and blog where employees could engage in open discussions among themselves and air concerns without facing the scrutiny of anti-union plant management.

Sam Fratto, the organizer who set up the blog, described the situation this way: “[The workers] were afraid to talk among themselves on the floor. They’d tried organizing the plant a few years back with a different union, and the bosses retaliated – they even fired some folks. But this time with the blog, nobody’s jobs were in jeopardy because management couldn’t single out who was for or against the union.”

Eventually, workers at the plant certified the union and opened what Fratto characterizes as a “productive first round of negotiations” with management based on mutual respect.

Stories like this remain the exception rather than the rule, despite the near-ubiquity of social media and its obvious utility in the context of the labor movement. There are a few explanations for this:

1. Consumer-based tools like Facebook are unsuitable. Union organizers have the same complaints about Facebook that many businesses and consumers do: It’s insecure, the company mines and uses personal information in unpredictable ways, the terms of service are constantly changing, and transparency is a two-edged sword when it comes to discussing sensitive issues. Some tech-savvy activists are working on their own social media platform,Unionbook, as a more secure and less distracting environment.

2. Privacy is critical. Most employers really don’t want a union in their workplace and will go to great lengths to foil attempts to organize workers. This includes infiltrating blogs and discussion groups, planting misinformation in social media streams, targeting suspected organizers for workplace discipline or firing, and creating lookalike sites provisioned with company-line propaganda to confuse the issues. Unions and workers interested in forming unions are rightly concerned about these issues because the stakes are unusually high.

3. Management has some innate advantages in the social arena. For the past five years, employers have adopted social computing technology for all kinds of reasons related to their core businesses, not just labor relations: viral marketing, internal operations, collaborative innovation, etc. Unions have not invested much in technology or social media institutionally. Any competencies they have developed are incidental, not systematic. This puts them at a disadvantage against negotiating partners who have already learned and adopted best practices.

4. The digital divide is occupational and class-based. Class may be a dirty word in American politics, but there are real gaps between educated white-collar workers in management and blue-collar workers in traditional unionized occupations in terms of technology adoption. Consumers with less earning power are less likely to own up-to-the-minute tech gadgets or prioritize expensive broadband connections, and are therefore less likely to have developed the social media habits that can help them learn and use technology at work. To make matters worse, union demographics increasingly skew toward older workers, activating generational issues around the technology as well.

All of this makes it an uphill struggle for labor to embrace tools that could help it reach the next generation of workers, improve transparency, and rebuild the sense of community that animated the union movement in its heyday.

Leaving aside the issue of whether unions are right or wrong for today’s economy, the workers who choose to organize deserve institutions and leadership that can advocate effectively for their interests, and that means embracing social media when it is the right fit for the mission.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Tale of the Lonely Labor Website - A Personal Account

Today is Labor Day, 2011. I decided that New Labor Media: The Labor Union Guide to Social Media has been ignored long enough.

Why has this site been left to shrivel away? It is certainly not on purpose. However, my writings and advice led to new opportunities that eventually have eaten away at any free time I once had for this website. 

But stay tuned: I'm creating a more modern flash site for New Labor Media, which will be unveiled in 2012.

However, today - Labor Day - I am faced with a bevy of thoughts that have no outlet - except, perhaps, here. I am moved by what today represents, but also what yesterday represented as well - perhaps even more so.

Yesterday, a tremendous man and pioneer of the labor movement, died quietly in his sleep after a difficult surgery to remove a stomach tumor. He died in the same way he lived - bravely, honorably, and unselfishly. Victor Bussie was 92 years old, and had lived a long, beautiful life - one that he dedicated, with unwavering passion, to the labor movement.

Most of you who are reading this won't know who he is. He was a quiet man and didn't believe in self promotion. Yet his is a story that should be known by every labor activist in this country. Many of the "old timers" will know him - especially former state AFL-CIO presidents and politicians that reigned during the 2nd half of the 20th century. Mr. Bussie is also known widely throughout his home state of Louisiana, the venue in which he did so much good for so many people - sometimes at a great personal price.

When I first met this man, I had no knowledge of who he was, other than his title - President of the Louisiana AFL-CIO. To this day, it is hard to believe that a soft spoken gentleman with such composure, grace, manners and respect was the same man behind the stories I would eventually hear.

A year ago, the Louisiana Democratic Party honored Mr. Bussie with their first Lifetime Achievement Award. He stated during his acceptance speech that, "I'm 91 years old, and I'm not going to die until you take over this country again. I'm not going anywhere."

God had different plans. Rest in peace, sir. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Union Site in the Spotlight for the Week of May 1, 2011

New Labor Media's

This week I have the pleasure of critiquing Transportation Workers Local 568, straight out of sunny Florida. They represent American Airlines workers out of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa. The website was developed by, with internet service provided by's sister company,

If you've ever taken the time to notice what website designers are used by other unions, is a commonly seen logo at the bottom right hand corner of many online labor union halls. This particular company has three very straightforward packages that are advertised on their website: basic, standard and advanced. Each level includes a one-time website set-up fee, along with a monthly maintenance fee for hosting the site. Be forewarned: Once the website is initially set-up, it is up to you to update and add content to it. It's very user friendly, but if you're expecting someone from to do it for you (which I suspect they are willing to do), this would be an additional service with additional fees involved.

Now, let's review the website. My first impression was a good one. I like the heading, the graphics, the overview color scheme. It's very easy on the eyes. The three column layout works well and the graphics and fonts are high resolution within the two outside columns. I am very pleased to see that they have a members-only portal, event calendar AND a vote registration/congressional contact link. In addition, TWU Local 568 has prominently displayed links to its social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter. This site also appears to be kept up-to-date. If you want to show the world how relevant unions still are today, make sure your home page has current information. It doesn't help your case if the most recent article or headline is still advertising ticket sales for the upcoming 2008 Labor Day picnic bonanza. 

We've taken a look at the good features, now let's consider the not-so-good as well. First, the home page is a mile long. As I've mentioned in previous articles, don't feel like you have to throw everything up on the home page. The home page should not require scrolling to read articles. Think of it as the facade of a home. It's the first thing anyone sees. It is the first impression to the world. It might be the only part of the home most people see, so you want to keep it looking good! What would it start to look like if you starting planting annuals without pulling up the dead ones from last year first? No matter how pretty they are, people will only notice the dead ones and how unkept it looks. If you're like me and don't have the time or patience for keeping the front, back and side lawns impeccable, then keep the front looking ship-shape, and let the back yard go if necessary.  The same goes for websites! Don't let article after article build up. Keep the most recent article on it, and retire the others to a secondary page.

Second, if you look at the screen capture above, you can see I've made a few notes. The left-hand menu has too many options for visitors to choose from. Narrow the options down to broad categories on the home page, and then throw as many menu options on the secondary pages as your heart desires. For instance, all of the member-only pages that have their own menu buttons should be found in the members-only section of the site that requires sign-in. There should be one menu button on the home page for members-only pages, one "portal" if you will - not five different links requiring signing in to view the material. Also, I'm not a big fan of the first notice on the page being one that highlights web site access issues. It can be just as noticeable by being strategically placed in the right hand column, with simplified text to grab the attention of those who need that information.

I'm not advocating that the home page be perfect (think well manicured lawn) and the rest of the pages be a hot mess (as in the A&E show "Hoarders"), but if you have limited time and experience, make sure your first priority is a professional looking home page. Then slowly start chipping away at the others.

Just remember, keep web pages clean and neat, and easy to read! Don't overwhelm your visitors with content. Organize it well, and it will be easy for them to find what they want.