When workers are organizing a union, they are often eager to tell the world the good news. Depending on the workplace and campaign specifics, workers will approach the process of going public differently. Some union campaigns are strict about not going public before a majority of workers have signed union authorization cards, while others go public as they continue to build support (such as the 2022 Amazon Labor Union campaign in Campbellsville, KY). Assume that as soon as your campaign is public, management will kick off an intense anti-union campaign.
There are a few key pieces of prep work that will help you launch a successful public campaign. Here are three must-haves before going public:
A representative organizing committee
A representative organizing committee (OC) is a group of people who meet regularly to move the union campaign forward. Ideally, your OC has participants from key areas of the workplaces (think: departments, shifts, locations) and can reach most union eligible employees quickly. A guiding principle for OC size is 10% of the size of the union. So a 100 person unit would have a 10 person committee. While it’s not always practical to build a committee that’s 10% of a very large workplace, the reason for that guideline is that each person on the OC would be responsible for communicating with 10 employees. If there’s an update or an anti-union email from management, a representative OC can quickly reach everyone through 1:1 conversations.
Read more: What’s an organizing committee
A clear public message
Workers generally develop a list of bargaining demands after they’ve won a union election - that way everyone in the unit has a chance to voice their opinions and priorities. However, you should have a clear sense of the issues at the workplace and what you want to change or preserve by forming a union. Think about what will resonate with your coworkers and with a public audience. Try to distill key issues into talking points and think about how to communicate your struggles to a broad audience. For example, if wages are an issue, you can say something like “We want a union contract to negotiate fair wages and regular salary increases” rather than “We want a union so that we get a 5% raise.”
You should also think about the tone of your message. It’s not just about dragging management through the mud and pointing out everything that’s going wrong. Ideally, your message says something that you want your coworkers can rally around so don’t forget to ground it in the positive; “We’re organizing to support each other and advocate for our seat at the table”.
A dedicated group of inoculated coworkers
Most campaigns go public only after a majority of workers have signed union authorization cards - that’s how workers have a clear assessment of people’s support. If you’re discussing going public before a majority of people have signed union cards, first go through your workplace map. Are there departments or locations that you haven’t yet reached? Have you actually exhausted those options? Have the people that have already been talked to been prepped to withstand an anti-union campaign from management? Will they hold strong? There can be value in going public during organizing to show management and your coworkers that people aren’t afraid but be sure that you’ve got a strong base prepared to stand with the union.
If you’ve been in touch with people, you also want to make sure to let them know that the campaign is going public. Depending on your plan, you may want to ask people to do something the day of the announcement (like wearing a union button).
Read more: Preparing co-workers for pushback