What did the unions ever do for me?

DWP Fylde branch is large, with nearly 2,500 members and lots of reps, but proactive recruitment had taken a back seat and they wanted to increase membership density. One way was to attend every induction session for groups of new staff, and talk to them about the union. This strategy alone gained them 242 new members in 2016.

Rep and branch executive committee member, Chris Wade, explains how he and his colleagues went about it as one way to boost their numbers.

Q: What got you started on this recruitment drive?
A: After many years of a recruitment freeze the employer started to take on the staff needed to do the job here.

We recognised the importance of increasing membership for union strength, and also for individuals in terms of their own protection, so starting the drive was a natural thing to do. An added bonus has been getting the chance to meet existing colleagues who may have allowed their membership to lapse with the withdrawal of check-off, and remind them of the valuable work the union and its reps do.
 
Q: What’s been good about targeting induction days in particular?
A: We see new starters on day one and ours is the voice they hear just before or after they have learned about ‘attendance management’, ‘standards of behaviour’, ‘health and safety’ and ‘security matters’. We are the checks and balances that exist regarding the application of these policies and – without scare tactics – we’re able show our new colleagues the value of membership.
 
Q: How did you go about organising it and what was management's response?
A: Management always say they encourage union membership so we have never had a difficulty getting the invite – we’re seen as an integral part of the induction process. We work with facilitators and trainers and have our slot to speak. On the whole the response is positive and supportive.
 
Q: What do you tell people about the union?
A: Some new starters may never have been in a workplace with a union before, others may have, with positive or negative experiences. Most will have pre-conceived ideas about what unions do from the media or from depictions in movies. We tell them first that what they have seen or heard is probably not what the reality is and then tell them what we do.

Which is to:
Campaign – on their behalf. Even before they started we managed to successfully argue that staff should be recruited on a permanent and not a fixed-term basis.
 
Negotiate – for all employees. This includes terms and conditions, pay, flexible working…for our new starters this meant they enjoyed the benefits of our employee deal (on pay), even before they applied for the job.
 
Represent – individual members.  We talk about good news stories of how we have assisted members in difficulty in areas like attendance management, discipline and performance. We emphasise the importance of joining because we can only do this for members – letting them know that as soon as we have their completed application form we will represent them.

We also tell them of the other benefits the union offers, such as access to the Credit Union and legal and financial advice.

I like to tell them that if they want to look at unions in terms of the movies they can ask themselves the ‘Life of Brian’ question: “What did the unions ever do for me?”. The answer is “pretty much everything.”
 
Q: What other recruitment tactics have you been using?
A: ’Recommend a friend’ - asking members to encourage colleagues to join.

Speaking at staff meetings in five-minute slots. In these meetings we are the visible face of the union. Colleagues hear us and see us, know who we are and what we do.
 
Q: What would be your top tips to other reps? What works?
A: Be visible, be vocal, be positive.  Focus on successes while acknowledging the difficulties inherent in dealing with what are sometimes harsh policies.

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