Union Members LEARN About Social Media’s Advantages

Kenzo Shibata from the Chicago Teachers Union shares digital media campaign strategies
 Kenzo Shibata Chicago Teachers Union
Above: Standing in front of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)'s Twitter feed, Kenzo Shibata discusses ways in which CTU used social media during their 2012 strike.
With the growth of digital news channels, more people are turning to Facebook and Twitter for news updates. In fact, 19 percent of Americans received news or headlines on a social network “yesterday.” That number was almost double (34 percent) for people in the 18–24 age category, according to The State of the News Media 2013 by The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Above: More than 40 union members attended the social media workshop to enhance their group's communications and increase engagement. 
Above: Jessa Lingel discusses ways in which marginalized communities are using social media. 
Above: Kenzo Shibata shows some of the compelling images that were shared to the public from CTU's social networks. 
In an effort to help union members utilize social media’s advantages, SMLR held a Social Media for Labor Activists Workshop on April 26, 2013. Approximately 40 unions from across New Jersey gathered in Rutgers Labor Education Center, where they participated in discussions with guest speaker Kenzo Shibata. As the social media and video director at the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Shibata led the usage of new media during CTU’s strike in 2012. 
Jessa Lingel, a Ph.D. student at Rutgers School of Communication and Information Studies whose research interests include information practices of marginalized communities, and Jason Mann, an organizing strategist and trainer who has helped unions use new media to organize workers and better communicate with their members, also participated as speakers.   
“According to our findings, thirteen local unions had less than 1% of their membership ‘liking’ their pages, and only three local unions had more than 1% of their members who ‘like’ their page,” said Marion Burke, who worked as a SMLR research assistant and graduated in May 2013 with a master’s degree in labor studies and employment relations. Ms. Burke joined SMLR Professor Rebecca Kolins Givan and SMLR Director of Communications Renée Walker in giving the event’s opening remarks.  
Although membership on local unions’ social media platforms is currently small, the union leaders were given tips on how they can grow their groups, increase engagement, and quickly share information. 
Jason Mann fittingly participated in the discussion via Skype. The author of Promoting Your Union and Strategic Organizing, Mann advised union leaders on how they can incorporate social media tools into their Websites. He believes that union organizing is about empowering people and changing lives, and social media can help achieve this goal.
“The problem your union faces isn’t about creating advantages for being a union member—it’s communicating the advantages of being a part of your union,” said Mann.
Jessa Lingel used examples in which new media can spread critical messages for groups, similar to the communications used by organizers during Occupy Wall Street. 
“There are communities, like the underground punk rock scene, where you can use the internet and code names to inform other members of where events will be secretly held,” said Jessica Lingel. 
Kenzo Shibata shared some of the strategies and tactics CTU used in their 2012 social media campaign, which culminated in 38,000 followers on CTU’s Facebook page. 
“We used Facebook mostly to agitate and educate people about the conditions in the classrooms,” says Shibata. 
In addition to using Facebook, CTU shared photos of classroom thermometers on blogs and Flickr to highlight the extreme temperatures in Chicago classrooms. Both Twitter and YouTube were used to share photos of eye-catching picket signs as well as to tie-in the campaign’s messages with popular cultural references. This approach increased the union’s exposure, produced viral videos, and ultimately helped CTU to resolve their strike. 
“It’s important to have a coordinated message,” said Shibata, who has taught writing and debate in Chicago public schools for nearly a decade. “You cannot make a PDF go viral.”
The Social Media for Labor Activists Workshop was organized by Labor Education and Research Now (LEARN), which offers a wide range of noncredit and continuing education training programs for union members and management representatives, as well as the organizations and professions that are associated with these groups. LEARN students are emerging leaders across the state of New Jersey who want to enhance their personal knowledge and workplace skills.