Latest Solidarity Issue

Never has bargaining been this transparent

- UAW President Bob King

During the Big Three negotiations, the UAW brought instantaneous communication to its members through social media using Facebook, Twitter, robo calls, secure websites for members and e-wire messages letting them know what’s been going on behind-the-scenes and in real time.

In our efforts to communicate more quickly and effectively with our members in the recent auto bargaining, the whole contract (summary and actual language documents) were posted on our website and on special UAW General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC websites soon after a tentative agreement (T/A) was reached. Members who had signed up for notifications were also immediately notified once T/As were reached, and notifications were posted on specialized Facebook pages. Also, Robo Calls were made by our UAW vice presidents notifying our members. In addition, after our members were notified and our UAW GM, Ford and Chrysler Council meetings were held and detailed briefings were given to our local union leaders, the UAW held news conferences to inform the media from a UAW perspective what had been achieved in the contracts.

The UAW International Executive Board (IEB) is excited about using the new media and electronic tools available to us to better inform our members. Especially effective has been our use of social media.

Just what the heck is social media?

Social media is the instant communication and collaboration through technologies to create and share news, information, ideas, personal messages and video. In short, social media gives every person the opportunity not only to be a reader or viewer, but to become a publisher of their own content through websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Because of this, media has become interactive and instantaneous throughout the world.

The power of social media

Social media is being embraced all over the United States and the world. The power of new media was most notably achieved in Egypt when activists, mostly young people, led mass mobilizations by recognizing the potential to demonstrate and be heard through communicating on Facebook and Twitter, which led to mass gatherings in the streets. It’s a true testament to the power of inspired people coming together in strength and unity to fight for change to be heard and even conquer their oppressors. This revolution and solidarity ultimately toppled the Egyptian government and rid the world of another dictator just earlier this year.

Though it was the masses who brought about change in Egypt, social media was a catalyst to the uprising by giving instant communication to aid in organizing protests, informing people to separate fact from fiction when the government attempted to spin the truth, and by bringing awareness to the rest of the world about their fight. Social media was so important during the protest that the Egyptian government shut down that country’s Internet to stop the uprising from progressing, but with the help of foreign news agencies who provided additional Internet to the protesters, the people prevailed and eventually triumphed.

Closer to home in Wisconsin, social media was instrumental in keeping the spirit of the fight burning in protesters who took over the state Capitol building to reclaim their state from newly elected Republican politicians who were taking away workers’ rights. People were outraged at the attack on labor and instead of waiting for someone else to fix their problems, they took the initiative and took action. Social media was especially useful with cell phones where protesters could instantly share video and news about their fight for justice. They also used it to inform activists waiting to get in doors to the Capitol and alerted them when they were opened. Sending instantaneous updates through Twitter and YouTube also helped inspire those sitting at home to be proactive and join the demonstrators, as well as allowing those who couldn’t attend the rallies to share in the experience.

And again, as in Egypt, the power of social media was so effective in the Wisconsin protesters’ fight that security at the Capitol building tried to prevent cell phone users from entering.

Big Three negotiations, meet social media

In an effort to remain in communication with its members during domestic auto negotiations, the UAW embraced social media with the addition of multiple websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, robo calls and newswire e-mails as a service not only to provide information, but also to be interactive and answer questions and concerns members had about negotiations. This proved a vital way to quickly put rumors to rest and let members know their concerns were being heard. And for the first time ever, members were given immediate news and information, including posting full proposed contracts online.

“It was really Vice President Jimmy Settles’ vision for how to best bring social media to our members that inspired all the UAW officers when he brought up the idea during our pre-bargaining discussions,” said UAW President Bob King.

Through social media, the UAW gave news about agreements, interactions with management, updates to let members know whether negotiations had wrapped up for the day, and even let members know when things weren’t going so great in a better effort to keep members up to date and informed.

“I’m really excited to see social media working for our membership, not only with this launch, but also in the many new ways we can connect to our membership as social media branches out and evolves in the future,” said Settles, who directs the union’s Ford Department.

“This is a critical time for our membership, which makes this the perfect time to further integrate social media into the union. And more importantly, our membership has found it extremely informative,” said UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, director of the union’s GM Department.

UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who directs the union’s Chrysler Department, said he “couldn’t think of a better approach to reach out to our members. It has been very positive.”

Members agreed, too, that they had a place to be heard whether they supported or opposed the issues at hand. All comments were welcome, barring any profanity or libelous remarks.

The UAW’s various Big Three department Facebook pages evolved into a community where members actively discussed events, news and information and helped each other work out issues. New, positive relationships developed out of the pages as members found common bonds with each other. UAW International staff referred to Facebook to assess members’ feelings on various issues and how to better address them.

Interestingly, even UAW negotiators checked social media daily to find out what members were saying and feeling. It fueled them to keep up the fight and refocus on the people they were representing. One included Freddie Hughes, a member of the UAW National Chrysler Negotiating Committee.

“It’s an incredible way to stay motivated during these long negotiating days,” said Hughes, who earned the nickname “Fightin’ Freddie,” of using the new communication tools. “People were saying things like, ‘Fight for us Freddie, we believe in you!’”

News travels fast

The UAW is embracing social media, and it’s not just members who are becoming active. The news media noticed the union’s new approach and began using the various UAW Facebook and Twitter accounts for background information. The UAW leadership’s vision and commitment to more open and transparent communications will help build relationships between the union and its members – as well as with the news media.

As the UAW continues to evolve and grow, social media will help unite us through our common interests, understand our differences – and perhaps even embrace them – and reach the goal of building a better future for our children and grandchildren.

Stay active and get involved with social media – the world is watching.

Denn Pietro and Chris Skelly