May 3, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – Charles Lechner is a longtime leading innovator and educator on the benefits of using technology in labor organizing. LaborPress sat down with him during the eighth annual Organizing 2.0 conference held this past Friday and Saturday in Manhattan to learn more.
Lechner says he started in high school as a political activist and didn’t look back, becoming a “professional advocacy politics person” after graduating from college. He was drawn to understand how organizations were using communications technology.
“It starts with the need to send emails and do fundraising online, and that leads to the heart of different organizations’ questions, like how do we make decisions about what we say, and how do we boost engagement,” he says. “The issue is, how do we use technology to achieve our purposes? So when the first inexpensive databases started to come online for organizations,” he says, “I learned how to use them and since then I’ve been consulting for unions and organizations that want to do better in that. I’ve been doing that for ten to fifteen years.”
Lechner does private consulting for unions, as well as being a prime mover in Organizing 2.0, where a variety of workshops are held; trainings are also given in smaller events throughout the year by 2.0, and as part of events organized by other groups around the country.
Technology can be a boon for unions in many different areas, Lechner says. “One of the most neglected is member engagement. We know that for any given number of members, one asks, how many show up to meetings, how many look at your emails and read them? How many are paying attention on social media? These are all very easy to quantify. We CAN know the answers. And once we know them we can use the information to escalate member engagement. It is not yet as widespread as it could be, even though the methods of doing it are cheaper and more effective than they’ve ever been.”
Examples of unions that Organizing 2.0 has worked with include UFT, PEF, UAW, and a LIUNA local in New York. He also says that about fifty different unions have sent people to the trainings, and stresses that having relationships with the staff that are doing the work in unions is key. “Those staff are often junior, or new, and are trying to figure stuff out, and we’re trying to get to them early to help them navigate. Helping the staffers is a way to increase the acceptance of digital tools in those unions.”
Social media such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to reach out to members, and to increase contact lists, as well as journalists and politicians. He does not recommend “cold emailing,” rather, engaging people through their interests. On Facebook, for example, unions can buy advertising that will be posted on pages that a specific demographic of their choice is looking at. Ads can be sent to those who identify themselves as workers at a company as well, he says,which was done by the Our Walmart campaign to great success. Other, less utilized platforms also hold promise. Pinterest, for example, is used primarily by women, and might be an attractive place for a union whose membership is primarily women. Instagram is very popular among younger workers. The important thing,” he says, “is to identify your actual goals, so that the things you do are designed for those specific things.”