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Oregon AFSCME uses ThruText to keep members informed and activated on everything from contract negotiations to disaster relief.
With pro-union sentiment at a 20-year high across the country, union membership and the creation of new locals are also seeing an increase. While this bodes well for building worker power and solidarity, it also challenges unions working to engage, inform, and activate larger member counts. Add to this the additional factors of union membership beginning to skew younger, unionized workers being more decentralized than the traditional factory floors from which they originated, and key locals experiencing a boom in membership which necessitates the training and mobilization of an ever-high number of stewards. Oregon AFSCME found itself faced with these same challenges and harnessed the power of ThruText to activate its membership for elections, contract negotiations, training, and even disaster relief.
Texting for time-sensitive matters like events or meetings is more effective…[We also] represent workers who work 24 hours a day or in Public Works where they’re on a power line or mountain. They can be hard to reach, and hand dialing requires staffing and time; it’s hard to scale that. But with texting, we bring the union to them.
Dan Torres, Political Coordinator - Oregon AFSCME
Before ThruText, it was a lot of work to communicate vital information to the union’s 27,000 members, says Dan Torres, Oregon AFSCME’s Political Coordinator. Email was the most popular method of communication, with posting notices on bulletin boards a close second. And while email is ubiquitous in everyday life, it wasn’t the best way to disseminate all types of information. “The hard part about that is sometimes the information is buried in other stuff like steward info or grievance updates, so with email only, you have to be very careful and thoughtful about overload. Texting for time-sensitive matters like events or meetings is more effective…[We also] represent workers who work 24 hours a day or in Public Works where they’re on a power line or mountain. They can be hard to reach, and hand dialing requires staffing and time; it’s hard to scale that. But with texting, we bring the union to them.”
Oregon AFSCME’s Local 328 is their largest centralized local, with 8,000 hospital workers as members. They use ThruText to quickly get the word out about member recruitment, reminders to sign membership cards, steward training, contract meetings, and more personalized outreach to new members, among other critical administrative duties. The ability to take their extensive list of members, segment by communication needs, and utilize the Recommended Replies feature for fast and straightforward replies takes a big chunk of time and staffing needs, and breaks it down into duties that just a few members can manage.
Worker solidarity doesn’t end at the bargaining table. When floodwaters rushed through homes and businesses in the city of Pendleton in 2020, leaving many displaced, the union sprang into action. Oregon AFSCME used ThruText to reach out to members in affected zip codes to perform wellness checks, assess the damage, and coordinate relief funds for members who lost their homes and belongings in the flood.
What made ThruText the difference-maker in this scenario was the ability to quickly segment a list of affected members and immediately text them the information they needed. Torres points out that even though messages might not be read the moment they were sent, the message itself remaining in the members’ phones “represented a lifeline.” Someone from the union knew what was happening, had a solution, and was ready to act on it when affected members responded. The union was able to provide relief to more than 40 members in Pendleton this way.
In times of distress, the psychological and emotional relief alone this can bring demonstrates the power of instantaneous outreach. The union followed up the text campaign with phone calls and was able to help members and their families get back on their feet — a feat that would have been much more arduous and complex without the ability to swiftly target and message specific members.
As the industrial makeup of unions modernizes to include more service industry and gig work, so too must communication efforts modernize to meet the needs of an increasingly decentralized labor movement. Family and home childcare workers are a rapidly growing sector of the American workforce, and Oregon AFSCME represents more than 2,100 of them through Local 132- CCPT Child Care Providers Together. These workers must be mobile to provide their services, and as such, they lack the break rooms and shop floors that unions have traditionally used to organize and educate.
Local 132- CCPT Child Care Providers Together uses ThruText to deliver information about trainings, meetings, calls to legislative action, and bargaining surveys. This way, each member can stay connected with the most up-to-date information and take action on their own time.
We know we can get folks to send text messages. It’s a way to involve everyone and get people engaged in the process of organizing.
Dan Torres, Political Coordinator - Oregon AFSCME
When asked about how he would describe the advantages of peer-to-peer texting and calling to unions who have not yet adopted this technology, Dan says there’s additional benefits aside from their own use cases. “One of the hardest things we face as a union is continually figuring ways to communicate with members not just in what we say but how we say it. Being able to control the message in a more personal way than email and quicker than a phone call is a valuable tool. Messaging in and of itself is not the end all be all; it’s about a coordinated strategy. Using the combination of tools all together is the way to continue working with and talking to our members. When we stop talking to our members, that’s when the feeling of ‘What's my union doing? How are they benefitting me?’ sets in. People think about unions sometimes in the sense of ‘insurance,’ but unions proactively try to make your lives better, and that’s a lot of work that’s done on a day-to-day basis, so being able to talk to people about that is crucial.”
Additionally, getting members and supporters together for text and phone banking is a great way to introduce people to organizing while helping them stay in their comfort zone if they’ve never knocked doors or engaged in various types of activism that are more public-facing. “A lot of members who were slow to adopt technology have been able to get in, log on, and start messaging. It’s that easy for them. It’s also a way to engage people who aren’t as comfortable starting on doors. We always want them to do those things, but if nothing else, we know we can get folks to send text messages. It’s a way to involve everyone and get people engaged in the process of organizing.”
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