Saturday, January 8, 2011

Online Organizing Key to Workers’ IBEW Win

by Mike Hall, Jan 4, 2011 AFL-CIO News

When workers decide they want to come together and form unions, it’s a well-documented fact that management is none too happy about it.

Talk with your fellow workers in the lunchroom, speak out at a forced, closed-door meeting with the boss, or—heaven forbid—wear a pro-union shirt, hat or sticker and you’re sporting a bull’s-eye for retaliation. In more than one-third of organizing campaigns, pro-union workers are fired.

In Newburgh, N.Y., last spring, workers at an Anheuser–Busch InBev’s Metal Container Corp. plant—where a previous organizing attempt drew intense management harassment and the firings of some workers—employees reached out to Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 363.

But as the IBEW Now News Blog reports:

The fear of captive-audience meetings, harassment and other actions by the employer left many at the plant wary of how to press forward without management sidelining their efforts.

So organizers got crafty and set up a special blog strictly for the 164 employees to debate, strategize, air concerns and ultimately come together for victory, all while avoiding many of the union-busting tactics so common in most campaigns.

IBEW Local 363's Sam Fratto says the blog was like having a “24-hour-a-day union and campaign meeting. Because of their past experience, workers were afraid to talk among themselves on the floor. But this time with the blog, nobody’s jobs were in jeopardy because management couldn’t single out who was for or against the union."

Over the course of the summer, the blog became an online meeting spot for the 164 workers, who knew plant management was monitoring the blog.

We knew they were monitoring the blog and we didn't care. It didn't matter. In fact, we used it to our advantage.

The blog was also being watched from 9 different countries including England, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, China and Japan.

Despite management’s efforts to hone in on pro-union workers, captive-audience meetings couldn’t refute what the workers were reading and commenting about on the blog. Says Fratto:

The company tried to get people to spill info about the campaign, but the workers just stayed silent. And since nobody’s wearing T-shirts or handing out stickers or fliers, who could they put the pressure on? Nobody.

In August, the workers voted overwhelmingly to join IBEW and are now in contract talks. Visit the can plant blog here:

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