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Labor Relations Insight

by Phil Wilson

How carefully do you craft messages to your employees? Have you ever announced something and then wished you’d said it a different way?

We recently ran across a messaging document posted on Facebook originally produced by the PR firm Park Street Strategies for the United Food and Commercial Workers. (Memo to self: The Google sees ALL the web pages).

According to their 2015 LM-2, the UFCW payed Park Street Strategies nearly $800,000 in member dues in 2015. That should give you some sense of how important they take this stuff. And if you happen to be a UFCW member reading this you might question whether this is the best use of your dues money. But that’s a discussion for another day.
The point of the document is to help the UFCW hone its messaging for potential members. It highlights what this PR firm sees as messages that hurt UFCW organizers. It suggests how those organizers should re-shape the messages to be more persuasive.

In a very helpful section it provides “green light” words to use all the time, “yellow light” words to use sometimes, and “red light” words organizers should never say. These suggestions are telling.

For example, organizers should never call union members, well, union members. Or workers. Instead they should be called “partners.” The document tells organizers to avoid the word “dues” like the plague. Instead it says to talk about “membership” (although they don’t give any advice about how to use the word membership without using the word member). They advise organizers to talk about changing the power dynamic and making a better life, versus talking about jargon like “arbitration” or “grievance procedure.”

On its face it is hard to argue with the advice in the document. Focus on aspirational values instead of conflict. Talk about benefits versus features. Draw attention to shared values. All good stuff.

On the other hand the document is short on practical examples of how unions actually deliver on the aspirational goals they outline. It’s one thing to say you’ll get “better wages, better benefits, and a better life.” The problem unions have is when you compare what unions actually deliver to new members in collective bargaining (oops, not supposed to mention that phrase), they really don’t deliver any of those things.

This problem explains why the UFCW (and every other union) needs to spend nearly a million dollars figuring out how to spin that reality into something people will pay them money to do. Not easy.

I encourage you to download the document, and not just as a way to show how unions struggle to square the facts on the ground with the promises they make during union campaigns. The advice on how to communicate to your employees is still excellent (and you didn’t have to pay a silk-stocking PR firm to get it).

Communicate in aspirational terms about the value each person receives and delivers to your customers and community. About your commitment to providing a great employment experience to your team. What you do to honor each person’s commitment to the organization and the customer. Ironically, just like with unions, the more you deliver on the these words the less likely you will ever have to worry about whether your employees will support you.

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