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Speaking Out

Keep in Touch With Members

Serving a local of almost 1800 members, comprising academic and support professionals, ranging from physicians to administrative assistants to Web developers and more than 100 other staff classifications, has proven to be a challenge. At Michigan State University, our members work in more than 100 separate buildings and are classified into at least that many separate work categories.

Though this may not sound like your higher education institution, we probably share a concern: the need to increase outreach and member participation.

We can all agree that the best means to achieve a strong union is through active participation of the membership. So, while we all have our personal lives to attend to and responsibilities beyond our job, it is important to find ways to be more effective in communicating with members.

Over the past year and a half, the executive board of our local Association has implemented new avenues for communication, using the Internet. Leading up to bargaining for our new contract last year, we canvassed the membership using an online survey to gain a better understanding of what their concerns were. While the bargaining was taking place, we created a listserv and e-mailed the membership frequently, keeping our members informed of progress during bargaining. We again surveyed the members after the contract was ratified to provide an open forum for members to ask questions that may have resulted from the newly negotiated contract.

Another technological tool we implemented a year ago was online voting, using it for the first time in ratifying our tentative agreement. Historically, contact ratification vote participation was marginal at best. It was common for only 10 percent of our general membership to even cast a ballot on the issue. Electronic voting substantially increased levels of participation. During the most recent contract ratification vote, roughly 600 members cast ballots.

Change was scary and difficult for my local at MSU, but once we embraced these opportunities they proved to be for the betterment of our Association. As a result, we were better informed of the topics our membership wanted negotiated in our contract; online voting resulted in an increase of nearly 300 percent in ballots cast; finally, improved communication through our Web site and listserv has led to higher member turnout at our monthly union meetings.

Maurice Koffman, serves on the executive board of the Administrative Professional Association/MEA-NEA at Michigan State University. For more on the challenges and successes in implementing new technology, contact Maurice.

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