We’ve been blogging on the need for unions and how they can help improve the country and how they helped in the past. Last week’s blog said there is the possibility of a union comeback actually occurring. There is potential to do that but the question is how can it happen. How can membership increase particularly with younger workers?
In our blogs, we’ve been citing poll information from Pew Research on unions. Almost two-thirds of Americans now view unions favorably. That favorability rating increases even more when it’s broken out by the age group 18-29. Just about three-fourths of that age group see unions as favorable. That’s a great start for a comeback but does that translate to more millennials as union members? Not necessarily.
According to some information from Generation Progress, only about 5% of workers in the age category of 16-24 belong to a union and that rate doubles for the age group 24-35. That 10% is a lot lower than other age groups. Why are there not more millennial union members?
The Generation Progress blog says many don’t join because they don’t have access to unions. The reason millennials see unions more favorably is because unions are involved in social causes. Millennials also prefer working in groups rather as individuals and unions represent groups of people which they like. In addition, millennials also like the emphasis of everybody working together to support outcomes. Another reason millennials may not join is because of all the political attacks that have been placed on unions. A lot of these attacks are not accurate but millennials have no way of knowing that.
Unions need to counter the negative attacks so not just millennials but all people learn about unions. This may mean coming up with new ways of doing things or new ideas on communication especially since millennials communicate differently than other generations.
One of the ways the AFL-CIO has been addressing that issue is through Working America. This is community organization effort that is taking the voice of all workers, both union and non-union, to local, state and federal legislatures. Working America wants to raise awareness on the issues working Americans feel are important. This type of activism can open a door to millennials to work on causes along side unions. It’s something millennials like and it also helps to counter the negative image as unions work with the public and the public learns more about them with real-time learning.
Another opportunity has also emerged to help unions connect with millennials. In fact, this opportunity has been created by a millennial to help attract other millennials to unions. Larry Williams, Jr. developed UnionBase so union members can connect with each other and other union or non-union workers. Larry knows how unions changed lives and the significance unions play in helping to make improvements. He learned about unions while working at the Teamsters and realized he needed to help them reach out better to younger workers.
In 2010 some unions and their affiliates, Cornell University’s Industrial Labor Relations Department and some other schools and groups got together to find out what was necessary to get more younger workers into unions. The group identified different communication strategies such as social media, blast texts and face-to-face as necessary means to attract younger workers. They also said unions needed to address issues that are important to younger workers. For example, child care issues could be important to single parents. The group also recognized younger workers may not be able to spend the time helping with union needs as other generations had done. Younger workers, especially single-parent workers, have at-home demands when they’re not working and it could be difficult for them to help with union activities. Some unions had addressed the issue by having child care available during union events.
These and other ideas unions are working on to increase membership and improve their outlook is encouraging. We at CALMC have seen changes in recent years and we do have a caution for unions because we see it as a concern. It will be important that union leaders LISTEN to membership and their issues.
Millennials and younger generations, in particular, work in different ways. They like group work. They’re willing to work to get solutions everyone will support. It sounds like millennials would like cooperative environments! They like to work on problems and come up with new ideas to solve them. They see things differently and bring a different skill set that can help solve existing problems. It sounds like they would be great members! The problem is, though, younger people and their ideas are not always seen that way a lot of times. Their ideas are seen as too “far fetched” or unrealistic or just won’t work. There can be a tendency sometimes, also, to look at younger people as a problem instead of looking at it as a time to change. Union leaders need to be very careful they don’t ignore the ideas or simply just disregard millennials and younger generations. They need them and their new ideas.
It’s true some ideas or ways of doing things may not work but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least be taken into consideration whether it’s in workplace meetings or union meetings. The reality is we’ve seen union leadership resist new ideas or change to the point they are willing to stop any opportunity for voice not just between management but also between other union leaders and members. That’s when nothing happens. That’s when members become dissatisfied, discouraged and want to quit. They lose their will to fight. Unions and their members must have open minds and be ready for change.
We have heard union leaders say the issues members think are important are not worth it because more important issues need to be addressed. We know what the issues were in one union and they were legitimate issues any worker would be concerned about but the leaders didn’t want to address them. That’s a concern, too, because membership becomes discouraged. Again, it’s about listening.
We also have seen union representatives not being available when members are losing their jobs. That is when union members need their union the most. Unions need to remember they also provide a service and their members are customers. Union representatives must be available even under the worst circumstances.
It’s not to say all union representatives do this because we have seen some great union reps be available to those who need help and attend the same meetings of those being laid off but for those that don’t, or don’t represent the membership well, they have a difficult decision to make because no union has the luxury of ignoring its membership especially when fighting for survival.
It’s great to learn about the new opportunities unions have to counter the negative images and work on increasing membership but there are some things unions must look at and be willing to change. It’s not to say that’s not happening because there are some very good unions out there that are doing the right things and that is what gives us hope. In another week or so, we’ll be addressing some other internal issues union leadership must address so they can have a clearer message and be ready for new members because there is real potential for growth. Obviously more and more people view unions favorably and want their help to make improvements in our lives and in our country just as they always have done.