1 June 2022

Ballot-ready: more tips from our organising awards winners

We hear from three of the winners in the PCS Organising and Communications Awards on some of the things they are doing to contact and convince previous non-voters to cast their ballots this autumn.

In an extended version of our article on reaching members to get branches ballot ready we hear more tips from three winners in the 2022 PCS Organising and Communications Awards. All the winners are listed below.

Jasmine Lota, British Museum United branch

Use lots of social media and communications
We have got a WhatsApp chat for our branch, for any member to join, and a private Facebook group. I also send out a branch newsletter every week or two, to those we have email addresses for.

Locate members and talk to them face-to-face
We still find face-to-face conversations are the best way to talk to people. Our main thing is that if we've got a member’s name on the branch list but we don’t have their contact details, we try and find out which members we have got in their office or area. We’ll always try to get a hold of someone who works with that person, or has got a friendly relationship with them, ask them to get in touch and tell them to check Facebook or get on our WhatsApp group. That's worked in the past.”

Have a branch plan for the ballot
Ahead of this next ballot, one of our main tasks is to make sure that all our members’ ballot addresses are up to date. Although our turnout in the consultative ballot was around 64-65%, which is really good, our branch still has more than a third of people who didn't vote. So we need to engage with those members and find out why they didn't vote and talk to them about why the campaign is important to them.

I think some people think that it's this big thing that's not linked to their needs. We know everyone needs a pay rise, but maybe we need to get more personal and ask people how they're coping with the cost-of-living crisis and then ask them what they would like to do about it. And if they say they need more money, we say well this is what the union is doing, but we need everyone to stick together and do this as a whole.

We're going to make sure that everyone who did vote in the consultative ballot votes again in September, and then we're ask those people to ask their colleagues who didn't vote ­­– once we identify who they are – to vote this time because this is the big one.

Do a mapping exercise
We stuck A3 sheets together to make a massive piece of paper. We had the staff directory, and we wrote down every member of staff and broke it down per department and team. Then we highlighted the reps and advocates so we knew where they were, and where we need to find reps.

We marked off people that are really active in the union who could potentially be reps. And then we found people who seem ‘anti’ union as well, or who have left the union. We need to speak them and find out what they think, because obviously pay is going to affect them too.

With mapping we can also have the information to say to some members, ‘your office is doing really great, you just need two more people to join, and then everyone's going to be in the union’… that kind of motivation helps get more people involved as well.

It really helped to split it into little sections and put it in front of your eyes, because otherwise it can be hard to tell where everyone is.

Increase the union’s presence
In June, we're running our PCS stall in our staff canteen. It’s been agreed with the HR department and they put out a bulletin to all staff about it, whether they're a member or not. We say if anyone wants to pop along and just have a chat with our reps and see what their union has been up to, it gives us the chance to say we've made improvements, for example, on health and safety and other areas.

It's a good way of getting people engaged. And it really makes people realise that the union is not something that's always just fighting with the management and not doing anything else. When they see all the hard work all of us have been doing on loads of stuff, it shows people the union’s there to improve your day-to-day work. For example, recently we sorted out an issue with the staff lockers, which people had been complaining about.

We try and do the stall every six months. In the run up to the ballot, we will try and do some more so that people can drop by and join up because they want to vote to increase their pay – who doesn't want a pay rise?

We have all the posters out on the table and application forms and then we'll have a laptop with PCS Digital as well. So if any members have got problems with it, we can help them get on there and show them how to look for training courses and other information. We have snacks and people are always eyeing those up when they go past! It's always quite busy, and it's really fun. It gives our branch more presence.

Do surveys on other issues to get members engaged
We're doing a survey at the moment because we've got a problem with an old workplace policy that says that you can only sit down for 10 minutes out of each hour that you're patrolling the galleries. We've had some members complaining about that. We decided to see how many people would sign a survey to say they agree with us writing to the management to change that policy. The mapping we did really helped because we’ll print out copies of the survey and give them to the reps who are on different teams and we'll say, for example, ‘get these five people to sign your copy’. It’s a good test, to see how engaged people are in doing something smaller.

If there's a local issue that you think you can win on, and it's something that is fairly simple but gets members engaged, they see they can get involved and have a hand in the outcome.

I told people if we get 100% of members signing this petition, it's going to give us more strength because it's not just going to be me in there telling the management their policy is rubbish. And then next time we can survey on something else, and then build up to the pay ballot.

Tom Westgarth, DWP Tyneside and Northumbria

Use Teams to contact everyone on your membership list
Teams is far and away the easiest way of method of contacting everybody in your team and beyond.

For the consultative ballot, I got a list of members and membership numbers from our branch secretary, so I could find them on PCS Digital and check they were still an active member. Then I would find them on Teams and send them a message just reminding them about the ballot and asking if they had voted. If they hadn't received the ballot or had accidentally deleted it, I would get a new one sent. I went through the list, then got another list, then another list!... then collated all the people who had voted and updated PCS Digital with the names. I made a colour-coded database with the people we had contacted, those who had voted already or voted since I'd told them, and all the people I was unable to find on either PCS Digital or Teams. I sent it all over to the branch secretary so she could refine the list.

I did it because it was building the union and it was real engagement. It got the name of the union out there as well; it reminded people that there is still a union, especially for inactive members.

We needed to get to the 50% turnout – if we didn't do that work it was never going to happen. In the end it was just under, but it was close. It highlights the work that still needs to be done, but also it is motivating to know that we are so close and to know that people are waking up to the idea that they're getting robbed of their pay.

Use those conversations to help win for members on other issues too
The work has so far been great fun. I've been able to help people in a personal capacity just by reaching out on the consultative ballot, because they've had contact within the union. It's been really rewarding to get people coming up to me, who I'd never before seen in person, saying 'thank you for what you've done’ – for example, getting them moved to a new team or helping with a disciplinary case.

Once they have that personal connection with PCS, they are a lot more open to coming to the union for help.

Increase the union’s visibility
“In my building, Benton Park View, I think we should be pushing for more visibility within the workplace, and getting the membership up as well as updating records. We have a lot of people doing hybrid working. When the ballot does land, I am planning to go into the office more often than being at home, so I have that chance to be more visible. I want to organise things like stalls and new posters on the notice boards.


Individual awards

Jasmine Lota
, British Museum United branch, was involved in setting up a new health & safety committee during covid, revamped the Group black members’ structure, improved membership density and communications and encouraged the use of digital tools both in her branch and Group.

Hill, OCS in HMCTS, for succession planning, recruitment of new members, and supporting and mentoring new reps.

Ross Seymour, R&C Benton Park View, for increasing digital sign up, carrying out successful inductions, resulting in new members and reps coming forward.

David Breton, R&C Cumbernauld, who stepped up as branch organiser during covid where he has recruited new members, set goals, increased PCS Digital usage and produced a social media plan.

Frank Hemmes, Ofgem, nominated by his branch for encouraging new reps, setting up new equality structures, and involving the branch in national campaigns.

Team awards

DVLA Swansea BEC, for their use of advocates during both the DVLA ballot and the national ballot, as well as their increased use of social media (with 2,000+ members on their Facebook page), regular members’ meetings, Callhub use, regular newsletters and use of digital tools.

The Design Museum, a new branch that won a recognition agreement, recruited new members and improved density, had excellent communications to members, identified diverse workplace leaders, and increased personal contact information.

OCS reps in HMCTS, who doubled membership density, improved leverage, identified new activists, and improved communications as part of their successful industrial action campaign. 

DWP Nottinghamshire, who used inductions to recruit new members, have an active advocates group, good use of the organising app in the recent ballot, and have a succession planning programme in place. 

Revenue and Customs Cumbernauld branch, for an excellent turnout in the national ballot by breaking up the list of members to contact into manageable chunks, plus a good use of digital tools and social media. 

New Activists awards

Tom Westgarth, DWP Tyneside and Northumbria. Has been a rep since October 2021. During the recent ballot he contacted over 800 members to encourage them to vote, and has recruited many new members, many of them young members. He has also supported other reps in their work and devised a comms plan at Benton Park View.

Paul Humphreys
, DFT Yorkshire and Humber, a new branch organiser who made full use of digital organising tools during the ballot, resulting in a high turnout of members.

John Mapletoft, DWP Nottinghamshire, a new rep who spoke to every member on site about the ballot, recruited new members, set up a WhatsApp group, arranged a keep-in-touch scheme for staff on maternity leave, and has upskilled himself via a variety of training courses.