Ten Mistakes Union Organizers Make

Union organizer leads picket

Year after year union organizers make mistakes that cause their careers to end abruptly. Others lose attitude and the slow progression of negativity takes its toll over time. Some of the best organizers burn-out from the workload and return to the tools taking their organizing skills and training with them. How can you avoid making these tragic mistakes and assure you will have a successful career as a union organizer? Read this list of ten mistakes union organizers need to avoid and check to see if you’re making these mistakes in your career.

1. Not Returning Phone Calls– Candidates, members and contractors all expect to have phone calls returned in a timely manner. Some organizers forget this fact at their own expense. If you fail to return your calls, expect to receive a call from your Supervisor or Business Manager. Nothing says, “I don’t care” like an unreturned phone call. Consider scheduling a time each day for returning calls and stick to it.
2. Hanging Around the Office– Get out in the field and make contact with the workers and contractors. Don’t let distractions in the office; phone calls, paperwork, member’s problems, etc. steal time from your organizing duties. Get out there and make a difference.
3. Failure to Complete Written Reports– If you’re requested to turn-in daily logs or other written reports on your activities make these a priority. This is an opportunity to inform your supervisor of your actions. Don’t just assume he or she knows what you are doing. Schedule time each day to complete paperwork and turn it in like clockwork. Don’t wait until you’ve been told. If you’ve been warned about this problem in the past, consider reevaluating your priorities. If you don’t, someone else will.
4. Bad Mouthing Your Boss or Coworkers– It may take a year or so but eventually this leads to a bad attitude and once you lose attitude there’s no getting it back. It “will” get back to them. If you make a habit of speaking ill of people, soon everyone will wonder what you’ve said about them when they weren’t around. Successful people always have something positive to say or they just stay silent.
5. Waiting to be Told What to Do– Most organizers are self starters. If you haven’t been given an assignment, make one. Pick a project that you will be interested in and throw all your energy into it. If it’s interesting to you, you’ll be that much more effective and more likely to make a difference. Most organizers are given a brief tour of their jurisdiction and a few guidelines to start, and then turned loose. So don’t feel like you’re alone.
6. Avoiding Workers Who Lack Experience– You may be the only representative of the union the worker ever contacts. It’s important that you do everything you can to help a worker; that means every worker. It might be to find work, provide information or just to listen, but remember, “organizing is a service industry”.
7. Selling the Union– If you’re “selling the union”, you’re probably not “listening”, because you’re doing all the talking. Remember, you’re not a used car salesman. The best union organizers learn to “listen”. By really listening you’ll find out what the “issue” is so you can better serve your client.
8. Not Following-Up with Contacts– When you receive a phone call or meet with a client that’s just the start. You need to be sure that you are staying in touch with the person in order to be successful. Consider mailing a follow-up letter to the individual and include your contact info or business card. Thank clients for meeting with you and encourage them to stay in touch.
9. Failing to Orientate New Members– New members have a lot of questions and by helping to answer these questions you can help the person assimilate into the union. Does your union offer a new member orientation class or a mentoring program where a new member is paired up with a volunteer who’s familiar with your union’s culture? Perhaps you could invite the new member to join your organizing committee? Find some way to help each new member fit in and take ownership of their union.
10. Burning Out– The long hours required to organize can take a toll on a person. The hours and days spent away from home and family can cause stress on a marriage. Find a way to balance work and family. Take time-off when available, eat right and schedule time for exercise.

The turn-over rate of construction organizers is tragic for the labor movement. There are no signs that anything will be done to solve the problem anytime soon. The best way to insure your success as an organizer is to avoid making these ten common mistakes so you can continue to help your union expand in membership and influence.

Bob Oedy helps union organizers succeed in the construction industry by providing solutions to dramatically increase their level of performance and productivity without burning out. For free information on how you can recruit more members, sign contractors and gain jobs for your union go to => www.unionorganizer.com