Using technology tools to keep members engaged, provide orientation to new hires
By KATE MOSTACCIO
Membership engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, but PEF leaders and staff were quick to adapt and mobilize, strategically using technology to keep members informed and involved.
“Membership engagement has definitely taken on a new, yet even more important, position in our union,” said PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio during a workshop at the PEF Convention focused on the tools union leaders can use to reach their members. “We have members over the last seven months who may have never, ever had to reach out to the union or come to a leader or steward for anything before, but all of a sudden the world turned upside down and they weren’t sure how to communicate with stewards and stewards weren’t sure how to get information to members.”
Before COVID, membership engagement could be a challenge, but PEF leaders and Divisions across the state could rely on bulletin boards, use mobilizers and hold membership meetings.
“A lot of those tools disappeared and we found ourselves in a sort of an emergency situation,” DiAntonio said. “We realized the one thing we could try to improve on to keep our members informed and engaged was how we communicate. It’s been a definite challenge, but I think we have learned a lot of new tools that I’m hopeful will take us into post-COVID.”
DiAntonio said COVID forcing PEF to go virtual was in some ways beneficial – members who had never attended a membership meeting in person were willing and able to attend on Zoom. Whether it was a long drive, inconvenient hours, needing a babysitter, misunderstanding the purpose of a union or being afraid to be seen in a union meeting because of management, some members preferred the virtual model.
PEF Director of Organizing Dan Carpenter said there are myriad reasons members don’t attend membership meetings, so it is vital that PEF reaches out by other means and in more than one way.
“Studies have shown that in order for the message to become unforgettable, it must be repeated many times,” Carpenter said.
Communicating legislative needs, new contract information, facts about benefits, dates and information about upcoming meetings or events, health and safety updates, new policies, how to deal with management and the status of union activities are all reasons PEF leaders need to reach out to members.
Leaders also need to reach out to correct misinformation.
“Sometimes rumors aren’t bad rumors, but they’re unconfirmed pieces of information and rumors spread faster than truths,” DiAntonio said. “A lot of the work we end up doing is undoing rumors. Sometimes it’s putting out fires and retelling or reframing information in a way that is more accurate.”
Forms of communication
The traditional modes of communication include the PEF website, social media accounts and bulletin boards.
“PEF has a Twitter page and a Facebook page,” Carpenter said. “Some of your local Regions and Divisions have Facebook and Twitter. The Region pages do a great job getting information out. PEF headquarters uses the Facebook page really well getting information out.”
Where members are essential workers and are required to report to worksites, PEF has kits available for local leaders to use on bulletin boards. Boards can serve as an avenue to share health and safety information, labor management details and information on membership benefits.
“Some agencies will allow electronic bulletin boards,” DiAntonio said. “That is a labor/management discussion. It’s really important to ask.”
Fun activities on the boards grab the attention of members and holds it. Leaders can use things like contests and photos to draw members in.
“There are a lot of ways to keep them interested,” DiAntonio said. “Fun” things help establish routines where members will keep coming back to the boards to see what’s new that day or week, she said.
Tools to reach out
With in-person meetings suspended, for the most part, PEF is focusing on three technology tools available to leaders – the texting app, Hustle; the Zoom app and desktop site; and email.
“Hustle is a great system,” Carpenter said. “It’s simple to set up and we have 29,000 cell numbers. We are empowering leaders by giving them this tool. They can text 100 people within just a few minutes. It’s valuable because you can send RSVP sheets, documents and share websites.
“Hustle is just an amazing tool,” he said. “I’m personally seeing a lot more engagement with members when you text versus email.”
DiAntonio said Hustle is particularly useful for leaders in the field. If leaders want to hold a meeting, they can send a “yes” or “no” text asking members if they are interested in attending and follow up “yes” responses with registration information.
“When they register, you get the most up-to-date information,” DiAntonio said. “They can also submit questions so when you are running a meeting you are prepared to respond.”
Another option is the “PEF on the Move” email system, affording union leaders the opportunity to reach out to 36,000 members and track how members respond to the messaging.
“We can send out an email and we can track it on the back end,” Carpenter said. “If you send the email to 100 members, we can see that 70 out of 100 members open the email. If you had a link to a document or a website, we can see if only 25 people clicked on the link. We might have a great open rate but sometimes we don’t have a good click rate.” When that happens, leaders can supplement emails with a Hustle push.
Growing in popularity during COVID is the use of Zoom for member engagement.
“Zoom allows for virtual meetings and can be used for membership meetings, town halls, committee meetings,” Carpenter said. “We were also doing labor/management prep meetings and statewide labor/management meetings. Zoom is just amazing and it just really made it so we can stay in touch a little bit easier with our members during this COVID crisis.”
The request process is easy – leaders fill out a form on the PEF website.
“COVID has really made us streamline how we register meetings and how we request meetings,” Carpenter said.
Going through PEF to schedule a Zoom meeting gives leaders the benefits of a paid Zoom account, Carpenter said. Leaders are encouraged to utilize it out of PEF to access the added features.
“When we were doing townhalls we were able to get up to 500 people,” he said. “We can get as many people as you can get willing to participate.”
With the additional features, leaders can use a webinar format and show only panelists and slides or they can run meetings where all attendees can be on camera and simulate a face-to-face atmosphere.
“I know people are missing the face-to-face interaction,” Carpenter said. “In a regular Zoom people do feel a little more inclusive and participants can interact with one another.”
Zoom has also offered leaders another way to conduct new hire orientations.
“Right now the onboarding process is different then it used to be, even in facilities,” DiAntonio said. “They’re not bringing people together to onboard. We are coming up with other options virtually to discuss joining the union with new hires. It’s also an option for leaders to request meetings with new members.”
Carpenter said PEF has been putting a lot of work into an orientation program via Zoom.
“This is one of the most important features of Zoom,” he said. “Jessica Carpenter has worked very hard along with AFT and SEIU to come up with a program that we feel is very simple and easy to use.”
The hope is that leaders will learn the process from PEF staff and then be able to conduct virtual new hire orientations independently, adapting the program to fit the needs of each worksite and agency. PEF is working to provide the orientations once or twice monthly to Divisions without elected leadership.
“We did this easy on purpose so it would fit within a 15- to 20-minute window,” Carpenter said. “We know management doesn’t give us the right amount of time to talk to new employees.”