Workshop focuses on member engagement, new member orientation tips
BY KATE MOSTACCIO
PEF’s goal is 100 percent membership within the PS&T unit, and to get there it will take effective member engagement right from the first meeting at new member orientations.
“It’s something we all have to focus on,” said PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio at the Member Engagement workshop during the 41st Annual PEF Convention in Albany. “Every interaction you have with a member, seasoned or new, is an opportunity to engage. You are our ambassadors.”
DiAntonio said it is vital to sign up new members. “We have a responsibility to grow our union,” she said. “If we lose numbers, we lose power.”
“Our strength is in our numbers,” agreed Dan Carpenter, PEF’s associate director of organizing.
The new employee orientation is PEF’s first opportunity to engage new members. “New members who attend a ‘helpful’ orientation are more likely to volunteer for the union; are more loyal union members; and feel greater responsibility toward the union,” a presentation slide, prepared by PEF Training Department staff, stated.
Carpenter kicked off the workshop by asking those in the audience how they conducted orientations.
Many said they emphasized the benefits of membership.
“I start with benefits and talk about the legal benefit,” one audience member said.
Another said they start a conversation about unions, asking if the new employee had ever worked in a union job and if they knew what it meant.
“I tell them the union has your back,” the member said. “I also talk about the perks of member benefits. Tickets, park discounts.”
Delegate Scarlett Ahmed, a steward and council leader of Division 245, said understanding how unions work can be especially important when you have multi-cultural members who may have a different view of unions.
“Read their body language,” she said. “Figure out what would interest them in the union.”
Another member talks to new hires about long-term and short-term disability and retirement benefits.
Carpenter said that’s an important conversation to start, especially with younger employees who may not have those items on their mind.
“Get them thinking,” he said.
Some members said they go through the new member kit highlighting things they think will be of particular interest to the new employee. Some talk about COPE right away, others hold off a little on that conversation.
Carpenter and DiAntonio stressed building bonds is key to successful membership engagement.
“We want to be the first friend, best friend on the job,” DiAntonio said. “Go back and check in with them after that first touch. I don’t remember anyone talking to me after orientation. We have to change some of the experiences we’ve had in the past. We need first friend, best friends in every work site.”
This person doesn’t have to be a steward or council leader, DiAntonio said. “They should be friendly and social,” she said. “You as a leader need to know whether that’s one of your strengths.”
Sometimes the best representative is a member who has had personal experience with the power of being a union member and can relate that experience to the new employee.
The message needs to be strong. “I want you to love your union as much as I love our union,” DiAntonio said.
Talking about the benefits is just the tip of the conversation, Carpenter said. “Membership benefits are key and all of them are great and we need to talk about it,” he said. “But the workforce is aging. Getting new members will keep that alive.”
“Talking about benefits is a great start,” said DiAntonio. “A helpful conversation is also promoting activism. Talk about the union as a vehicle to deal with problems; as people you can turn to. A helpful orientation isn’t just dissemination of information, it’s also forming a bond.
“This is not a one time conversation, it’s not just that 15 minutes,” she said. “Check back with them three weeks later. Build alliances. This is a service union and an organizing union.”
Making new employees feel comfortable, helping them find the bathrooms or the water cooler, is equally as important to building relationships.
Carpenter said passing along important resources, like the PEF website and social media accounts, is also a good strategy.
“Invite them to steward or committee meetings,” he also suggested. “Let them see how the union works. Have them look at the PEF website and sign up for emails with their personal email.”
Peer-to-peer texting has made member engagement much faster.
“Using Hustle allows you to reach out quickly,” DiAntonio said of the texting application PEF uses. “People can respond and then have conversations. You can send meeting announcements, links to a survey. It’s instantaneous.”
Carpenter said it’s important to gather certain things at an orientation, including the employee’s cell phone number, personal email address, membership card, and COPE card. The new employee should also come away with information about who to contact at the union if they need assistance or have questions.
When they ask, “What’s the union doing for you?,” DiAntonio said she holds up the contract book. “It’s tangible,” she said. “If you don’t have a contract book, contact headquarters.”
The Taylor Law now guarantees PEF time to meet with new members.
“If we aren’t using that right, it’s a waste,” DiAntonio said. “And if we’re not getting the time, we can fall back on the law.”
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