In the News

On deck for unions: Reaching the next generation of workers

American Rights at Work, Blog at Work, August 9, 2010

By Briana Kerensky

In the 60s James Brown might have sung that “it’s a man’s man’s man’s world,” but nowadays, women outnumber men in the workplace.  Young people likewise make up a growing portion of the workforce: over 70 percent of those ages 16-34 are part of the civilian labor force.  But of those 70 percent, only 8.2 percent belong to unions. The face of labor is changing, and the labor movement is seeking out creative strategies to get the newest generation of workers involved.

The UC Berkley Labor Center, Cornell ILR Labor Programs, and the Labor Project for Working Families recently released a report on the subject, entitled “New Approaches to Organizing Women and Young Workers.” In the 26-page report, 14 union and 9 community organizers, mostly young women, were interviewed to understand how they use social media programs such as Twitter and Facebook. The report also hones in on whether or not these organizers have focused on work and family issues in their efforts.

It seems strange for labor organizers to be posting on the same websites Justin Bieber uses to tell the world what he’s eating for breakfast.  But according to the study, that’s where today’s youth are, and so that’s where the modern labor movement needs to be.

[T]he ability of the internet, social media, and other new technology to connect people to people and people to information, easily and cheaply, has helped to overcome some age-old barriers to organizing and has become one of the most exciting organizing tools of our times.

Given the rise of women and young workers in the workforce, the new issues they bring to the table, and the new methods of organizing they use, how can unions transform themselves to be more responsive, relevant, and effective?

The report’s results?  All of the organizers agree that the new face of labor needs to be online, but nothing beats one-on-one in-person organizing.  In years to come, the challenge for unions is how to combine the two successfully. And with more and more unions ramping up their efforts to do just that, the future looks bright.