The story of UnionBase.org, started by millennial Larry Williams, Jr., is one born of a determination to revive unions. Williams understands how to connect with “digital natives” including millennials and Gen Z – people who don’t remember a world without technology. While attending the University of the District of Columbia in 2008, Williams worked as a temp at the Teamsters union, eventually becoming a full-time employee. He became enamored with the idealism of unions, becoming a believer that they’re the downtrodden laborer’s defender of fair pay and benefits, good working conditions and equitable treatment for diverse people. He also learned that unions weren’t technology savvy, so Williams spent his own money to build, develop and expand the UnionBase.org website.
Propelling Unions into the Virtual World
Williams has plenty of experience with unions, since he’s the president of the Progressive Workers’ Union that represents Sierra Club members. UnionBase.org is a virtual labor organizing vehicle and a social network for anyone interested in unions or networking with other workers. It represents one of the first concerted efforts to bring all unions under one virtual umbrella, where members interested in unions can post comments, search for unions, follow union leaders and union members, and find daily updates on activities concerning organizing, strikes and collective bargaining. Unions that join UnionBase.org can send private messages to union members or post public messages. The virtual organizing site is supplemented with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter social media sites.
You should become familiar with this approach for several reasons if you want to stay union free. First, it utilizes the communication channel most appealing to your younger employees. Second, it makes union organizing more efficient on a nationwide basis. Third, UnionBase.org has 30,000 unions listed and is working to create as large a list of verified unions as possible. A verified union is a union that has submitted a profile with UnionBase which is then assessed as to its accuracy. A verified union then verifies its member profiles. A verified union can post private messages that only verified union members can see.
The premise is certainly simple enough. UnionBase.org follows the Facebook model in which people can post comments as public or private members. Posters do not have to be union members because the website’s intent is to attract younger workers and make it easy for them to connect with the appropriate unions among the 30,000. However, non-union website members cannot access private union posts. Williams’ goals are to make communication among union members easy and to make it just as easy for employees to find union organizers who will help them get a union petition going.
Millennials Showing Interest in Unions
Is UnionBase.org something employers should take seriously to remain union proof? The government statistics suggest they should. Union membership increased by 262,000 in 2017, and approximately 76 percent were 34 years old or younger. Millennials are not only showing growing interest in unionizing; they are also attempting to unionize non-traditional jobs like professional technology employees and university non-tenured instructors. Millennials feel disengaged from the workforce because of fears that corporations are continuing to move towards using contracted labor and part-time work, neither of which has job security or benefits. They see power in social organizing.
UnionBase.org has the potential to increase union membership, but it’s not a union. It doesn’t negotiate union contracts or have the other powers of a union.
With a site like UnionBase.org accessible to anyone, there are two main concerns for your organization’s leaders. One is that your employees can be working on initiating a union a petition, and you wouldn’t suspect because all communication is taking place online. If your employees don’t believe they can discuss workplace issues with your leaders, or believe management is unresponsive to their concerns, they will seek out unions. Williams makes that easier to do. Right now, there is no charge to members or unions to join UnionBase, though that’s likely to change in the future. Williams is following the business model in which he first gets people interested and connected, making it more likely they’ll be willing to pay membership fees or access fees later. It takes union money to thrive as an organized group, even online.
Acting Like a Union
Williams is a person who sees technology as the medium for a revival of the historical labor movement. He envisions a new worldwide labor movement and is in the process of expanding internationally into Canada. Some of the idealism emanates from Williams’ interpretation of historical events. He uses inspiring language as an engagement tool. On the UnionBase.org Facebook site, Williams posted a comment that says, “UnionBase was built on a dream. Now it’s time for workers to dream up the reality they deserve…” He’s using the language of union orators who have inspired large groups of people for centuries.
Engaging employees within your organization with customized communication solutions has never been more important. People usually join unions because they feel disengaged from workplace decision-making processes and/or believe they’re not being paid or treated fairly. The emerging workforce is mostly white collar, but millennials like Williams believe unions or groups of connected people can adapt to achieve many of the same results for white-collar workers that they obtained for blue collar workers. That’s why social media sites like 15atWalmart are popping up. Employees believe they can join forces and act like a union even if they are not a union.