Take a quick moment, and think of the ways the Internet has simplified or made your personal life easier. Nearly 90 percent of Americans spend at least some time online, their time being spent on daily tasks like shopping, banking, scheduling, researching, and connecting with friends and family. Similarly, mobile devices are deeply embedded in today’s culture, and more than 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone. We access the internet on the go, relying on a variety of apps to manage our personal information, keep us entertained and connect us through social media.
But while all this is commonplace, we don’t often think about managing our work lives online. Unfortunately, union organizers are thinking about it. They’ve found creative ways to leverage employees’ internet dependence to further their own interests. Unions are now using seemingly benign sites and apps to quietly gather personal details about employees and the companies they work for. Then, they use this information to determine which organizations are most vulnerable to an organizing campaign. Employers today must be aware of these tactics, and educate their employees to ensure that casual use of online tools doesn’t result in release of sensitive personal information, company insight and, ultimately representation by a union.
Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Information-Gathering Methods
In some cases, it is simple to determine whether unions are behind certain apps and sites, while other times, their identity stays hidden. For example, the UFCW is currently using an app called WorkIt to target Walmart employees with the following promise:
WorkIt is an app to help people working in hourly jobs get answers to questions about workplace policies and rights from trusted and trained peer advisors. WorkIt also connects you to coworkers who share your experiences and can provide support and care.
This app and the folks behind it use the Microsoft Watson database to answer employee questions on policies, procedures, company rules and similar, encouraging employees to rely on the union to answer their questions rather than seeking assistance from their employers.
The union markets WorkIt through targeted advertising on social media and uses responses to gauge employees’ interest in organization. It gathers information about hourly workers without letting on that this data goes back to the union. By the time employers know a union is answering questions from employees, it’s too late. The union has engaged employees, knows the issues and understands exactly who will support their organizing campaign.
Terms and Conditions
Very few internet users read the lengthy terms and conditions of all the sites they use. Unions know this, so they hide obligatory language in these wordy documents. For example, the following language appears in the Terms and Conditions of the WorkIt app:
In today’s internet-centric environment, employers must educate employees on protecting their information from these union tools and third-party apps that appear innocent. These apps and forms are actually measuring, calculating and evaluating which companies are ripe for targeting through the information they gather from employees.
As a company striving to connect with and engage employees, it’s vital for you to teach your team members to protect their personal information by carefully reading privacy policies and terms and conditions before releasing any data online. It is critical that your employees know who they are giving their (and your) sensitive information to — and of course, the key message to communicate again and again is that their best source for company information is their employer.
Want to educate your employees on this and other vital topics in a consistent and powerful way? Check out the Explainer video Series from UnionProof.