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.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Labor Media's

  • Modern, clean layout that is visually appealing.
  • Very well written, no typos.
  • Not overly cluttered.
  • Eye-catching, rotating gear at the top of the page that is interactive.
  • Creative use of union bug.
  • Prominent placement of social networking links.
  • High resolution graphics and text. No bumpy, rough text - very smooth.*
  • Very professional-looking site.*
    • The home page is too long. The reader shouldn't have to keep scrolling and scrolling to access content. While this is okay for secondary pages, the home page should not extend very much beyond the browser screen.*
    • Much of the information posted on the home page can be moved to secondary pages, and some graphics could be smaller. Many unions feel compelled to post everything on the home page. Don't.
    • The main categories across the top of the page - news, organize, headquarters, territories, members and MNPL - should be individual portals that focus on information designed for specific audiences. This makes it very easy for someone to find the content they're looking for quickly, with as few clicks as possible. Your visitors shouldn't have to work too hard to find what they need. 
    • There should be obvious and individual portals for members, contractors, future members, news, and an "about us" that encompasses leadership profiles, locations, member organizations, mission statement, etc.
    • Once a visitor digs a little deeper, there are several unfinished pages. Keep unfinished pages hidden!

    Some of you might find it ironic that my own site does not necessarily reflect my own advice - and you're absolutely right. This site is a work in progress, and a free blog site has limited capabilities. You know the saying - Do as I say, not as I do! - NLM

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    New Labor Media's Website of the Week!

    New Labor Media is adding a new weekly series that will highlight and critique the best - and worst - union websites. The intent is not to humiliate or embarrass any organization. This is a teaching tool that will help union leaders take a closer look at their own websites, and hopefully make needed changes if necessary. Each site will receive a star rating based on the following criteria:

    Why is a website important for a labor union?

    In this day and age, if you're not online, you don't exist to the people you want to communicate with. Like it or not, the vast majority of people in this country turn to the internet for practically everything. Examples:
    1. An 18 year old high school senior (and future apprentice of the year) graduated in the top 20% of his class, but he can't go to college because he's raising his brothers. The first thing he'll do to find information about his post-secondary options? He will search job postings online. The first postings he'll choose? The ones that have website links rather than just phone numbers, because Generation Y doesn't call, they text and email. Will he contact you?
    2. A reporter working on a story about an upcoming rally wants to get a few quotes from labor leaders to use. Her first step is to google the unions in the region to find contact information and perhaps usable information that is already online. Will your quote end up in the paper?
    3. A moderately conservative mom is surfing the internet after the kids go to bed, catching up on her favorite blogs. Not knowing much about unions except what she hears about on Fox News, she stumbles upon a labor blog article about a local union's apprenticeship program and reads it. It opens her mind enough that she sends it to a few friends who are looking for jobs. Will it be your article that makes an impact?
    4. A daughter brings home her new boyfriend to meet her parents, and his first impression upon them is a good one. He mentions that he's a journeyman with the local union. The father is suddenly skeptical and wants to find out more about this "boy" who is leering at his little girl. He goes online to look up the union to see if this guy is legit. Will he find your union's website filled with broken links and old updates, or one that's slick and easy to navigate? Will your union's website represent your member as well as he is representing you?
    5. 50% of the members of a local union are habitually late in paying their dues because they have to go out of their way to pay them at the union hall.  This puts a financial strain on the union and forces an already overworked secretary to spend half of her time chasing down dues. Can your members pay for their dues online through your website for more timely and efficient results?

    Your website is often the first impression you'll make on many people. Do you feel that it represents your union and its members well? Check back each week to learn some new ideas about how to make your website stand out.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    The Wisconsin Protests: A Lesson in Union Communications

    Take note of the date February 15, 2011. It is the day that the American labor movement finally awoke from a long coma, and it did so on the steps of the Wisconsin Capital this week.

    Every union member in this country owes Governor Walker a huge thank you. If it weren't for his moronic short-sidedness and political greed, these protests would never have happened - but they desperately needed to. These protests are serving as the spark that sets labor's passion on fire again - a passion that has waxed and waned for far too long. Let's hope that Wisconsin's fire spreads from state to state, because the middle class has taken a serious beating, and something has to change.

    There are some important lessons to glean from these events. There is a very strong force that has driven so many thousands of protesters to Madison from all over the country.  This has become a national focus, and it happened at the speed of light. The driving force behind it is none other than social media in various forms, and demonstrates the enormous power that this medium has. An estimated fifty to sixty thousand people showed up today, which never would have happened in less than a week by setting up phone banks and sending out email blasts. Word spread virally in large part due to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like.  There is no denying the existence of a very strong online labor movement anymore, because it is (almost) singlehandedly fueling the events unfolding as we speak.

    Labor leaders, please learn this lesson if you haven't already. Social media is creating a much greater level of solidarity and unity among those in the labor movement, which has been sorely lacking for decades. Union leaders and members are connecting with each other from one end of the country to the other, and coming together to support the cause. From Richard Trumka down to John Smith, a first year apprentice, and everyone in between - social media has created a new mechanism for connecting and communicating with labor folks from all walks of life, at all levels - and you and your labor organization needs to be an important part of it.

    If your organization is dragging its heels because of aging leaders who barely use email, then take the initiative to recommend ways to get them involved. Oftentimes the fear of the unknown is far more stifling than the reality.  If they don't want to learn, if they don't want to encourage social media as a vital outreach tool for your local, then so be it - but at least you tried. Keep trying, stay involved - and one day you'll find that it's your turn to be the aging leader - but one that is tuned into the rank and file and national developments long before it hits the papers. It's far better (and sometimes easier) to lead others when you understand who they are, what they want, and what drives them as people.  

    Conversely, you can't call them to action and expect an overwhelming response when they barely know who you are and you only connect with them personally a couple of times a year, at a union meeting or Labor Day picnic.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    What Happened to MLK Jr.'s Dream?

    At the apex of his life as a civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was traveling about 325,000 miles a year and gave as many as 450 speeches one year. However, the speech etched in the minds of millions, perhaps billions worldwide is the “I Have a Dream” speech.

    What is it about this particular speech that makes it resonate with a variety of audiences?

    Some are undoubtedly mesmerized by the colorful language and the poetic phrases. Others are struck by this speech because it expresses hope for a brighter tomorrow where everyone is judged on their merits and not their skin color, and by extension not their gender, age, religious belief or nonbelief, national origin or sexual orientation.

    Still others are enamored with this speech because it occurred at such a time in history when people of all backgrounds, rich and poor, young and old, came together on a hot sweltering day in August to persuade the nation to live out the true meaning of its creed that all men (and women) are created equal. And then some are inspired by this speech because King was able to put into words the inequality a race and class of people were feeling and experiencing on a daily basis.

    In 2008, there was a period of euphoria and optimism among Americans who felt they had lived to see irrefutable evidence of the fulfillment of King’s dream when we elected our first biracial president.

    As it was in the days of President Kennedy, young people registered and voted in numbers not seen in 50 years. Civic engagement was at an all-time high. The outlook for race relations was promising, and the entire world applauded our willingness to look beyond color and see character and competence.

    Two years later, the euphoria has worn off. Those who hoped for a fast turnaround of a faltering economy soon despaired as factories continued closing, the dollar continued declining, the unemployment rate continued rising and the federal deficit continued expanding. These conditions warrant dissatisfaction and dissent.

    We are indeed within our First Amendment rights to protest for principles. We also have a duty to engage and express our discontent with government. What is troubling is the coded sentiments that threaten to undo much of the progress we’ve made to become a united federation of states and the poisonous rhetoric that attacks the person rather than their perspective.

    We are devolving into a fractionalized nation of xenophobes, fearful and distrusting of anyone unlike us. Some flinch when they encounter an Indian Sikh wearing a turban, fearful that he might be an Islamic extremist. Some women clutch their purses when riding alone with an unknown man of color in the elevator, leery of being accosted, no matter how well he might be groomed and dressed.

    Some are appalled at the notion of a military without a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on sexual orientation regardless of the soldier’s professionalism.

    King said that “racism is the myth of inferior people.” His ally, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, added: “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man — the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”

    If King’s commitment to equality and justice is worthy of emulation then each of us must resolve to do our part to affect the change we wish to see. Determine today to shine the light of reason into the dark recesses of intolerance until justice is illuminated.

    In the corporate sphere this means choosing to advocate for people with potential, regardless how different from you they might look, act, think or worship. In health care it means regarding any malady as worthy of political and financial support even if the disease in question is most prevalent among blacks (sickle cell), Latinos (cystic fibrosis) or Jews (Tay-Sachs).

    Two years ago, the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Development Institute spawned the “Blueprint for Prosperity,” a comprehensive community-based strategic planning model whose impact is measured through 15 years.

    The Blueprint focuses on six critical areas with far-reaching impact: education, racial opportunity and harmony, economic development, quality of life, leadership and infrastructure.

    With the assistance of many partners, United Way, Penn State Harrisburg, The Firm Foundation, PinnacleHealth, Messiah College, Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC and others, including media sponsors WITF, 95.3 FM the Touch and The Patriot-News, we are framing the issues and mobilizing resources for a concerted and united attack on these systemic challenges.

    Join us and others in putting aside partisan distractions and see that our fortunes are “inextricably bound together.” Do it today for “Today is the tomorrow you spoke about yesterday.”

    JOSEPH ROBINSON JR. is executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Development Institute and executive director of the South Central Pa. Sickle Cell Council.