Unions have had to rethink their entire business model post- Janus. In an effort to increase their ranks, they have latched onto hot-button social issues and campaigns like the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 movements.
This activity has accelerated in a midterm election year. Unions are also tapping into the anger and emotion felt by many Americans, particularly younger voters who, as a QUARTZ article recently highlighted, “don’t remember the 1970s and 1980s, when unions were demonized by big business and politicians.”
The stigma that unions kill jobs is a thing of the past and experts have seen a parallel between the rise of unions and the resurgence of socialism.
“What was once a contentious issue is again becoming mainstream,” said Steven Pitts, a labor professor at the University of California.
Case in point: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset win in the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district covering parts of the Bronx and Queens. Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and has been endorsed by multiple unions, including the New York AFL-CIO.
Add to this that many union members feel like the Trump administration has not delivered in the way they thought it would, particularly regarding tariffs, and the low-hanging fruit for union recruitment efforts is plentiful as we head into the midterm elections.
Implementation of New Technologies
Unions are increasingly using technology and social media to recruit and mobilize. This approach is not only highly appealing to the younger generation of employees, but also easy to target and often difficult to track. Examples of these efforts include:
- Blast texts addressing employees by name
- Email spoofing of executives
- Canvasser SOS mapping app
- Broadstripes CRM organizing software
- Closed Facebook Groups and Events
- Targeted social media ads on Instagram and mobile Facebook newsfeed
When it comes to grassroots efforts on social media and elsewhere, union organizers are using digital strategists to leverage humor/memes, the use of influencers, trending topics and hashtags to fuel their efforts. We have also seen the use of live tweet events and other online efforts to influence new employees as soon as they come onboard.
Another tactic increasingly being used by union organizers to gain internal information about organizations and influence employees is “salting of the workforce.”
“Salts” are union organizers who apply for employment at a targeted employer in order to gain access to employees and solicit their support for a union.
As long as the salt is genuinely seeking employment, an employer may not refuse to hire or consider a salt for employment based solely on his/her union organizing activities, beliefs or opinions.
An employer must be able to show that it would not have hired the applicant even in the absence of his/her union activity.
Unions are also actively recruiting current employees to work as internal organizers – replacing the more traditional organizers seen hanging out in parking lots and cafeterias.
These are just a few of the new tactics being used by unions to grow their base. And if the past year is any indication, they’re just getting started.