You’ve been talking to your coworkers and you have decided that it is time to take action. It is important that you make sure you put together a group of workers who are committed to see this action through, and that this group is representative of your workplace (shifts, departments, gender, race, nationality, etc). This group will be your organizing committee, and they should be leaders in their departments, meaning that they are good workers, people respect them, and that they are well liked.
Remember, it is your right to take collective action. It is protected under the National Labor Relations Act, Section 7:
“Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…”
Your best defense is your unity with your coworkers. If you stand together, you will have the power you need to make the changes you seek.
Do you know who you would like to approach but don’t know how to talk to them? Follow this link to a guide on how to have an organizing conversation with your coworker
Developing a Strategy
Now that you have a committee together, it’s time that you get to the heart of the matter. You and your coworkers need to identify the problems that need to be addressed through your demands. Are you not given Personal Protective Equipment during a pandemic and you work with the general public? Are your schedules changed without your approval after they are posted? Are you getting penalized for missing work because you were exposed to a deadly virus and had to self-quarantine?
You need to identify who is affected by these problems. Are the problems you identified widely felt among coworkers, or is it just a few people in a small department? A good issue to organize around is something that everyone has a stake in.
Next, you need to identify who has the power to make the changes you seek. Is it your direct supervisor, the general manager, or the director of Human Resources? This is the person you will need to deliver your demands.
Here are a few sample demand letters and petitions:
You and your co-workers should discuss what you are willing to do in order to get what you want. Are you willing to do a petition, wear buttons, perform a slow down, or stage a sit in? Do you hold an informational picket and get the public involved?
Lastly, you should consider what you will do if your demands are not met. You will want to plan out your next steps before you take action. A good campaign has the next 3 or 4 steps that you and your coworkers are willing to take to make sure your demands are met.
Guide to Developing a Strategy:
What is the problem?
Who is affected by the problem?
Who has the power to resolve the problem?
What tactics are you and your coworkers willing to take to get what you want?
What will you do if your demands are not met?
Ideas for Action
- Circulating a petition
- Wearing buttons, stickers
- Speakout flyer (With photos and quotes about the issue from several coworkers)
- Informational picket outside of the place of business
- March on the boss (See what a march on the boss looks like here and here!)
- Making noise with a whistle or other noisemaker whenever the boss walks by
- Phone Zap
- Slow down / work-to-rule
- Sick outs
What Makes a Successful Action?
Your demands should be clear, winnable, and short. Keep it to your top 2 to 3 things that need to be addressed. You don’t want to be put into a situation where you and your coworkers really wanted to get extended paid leave during a pandemic but were given something less important to you like an extra 15-min break.
A Good Action Is:
You and your co-workers mainly rely on public transportation to get to and from work. But we’re in a pandemic, and you don’t want to put yourselves into more danger of being exposed than necessary. Is demanding that your employer buy every employee a car to ensure that they get to work safely a winnable demand? Would your co-workers believe that they could win that demand? A more winnable demand would be the right to work from home or that your employer provides you with gloves and masks to use on public transportation in addition to while at work.
Your employer should always know why you are taking action. Staging a walkout without making your demands clear will not get your demands met. Your employer needs to know what is at stake here, as do your co-workers.
You should take actions that make sense and help you build power. You might not have everyone in the shop on-board just yet, but you have a majority of your coworkers willing to take action. Does it make sense to strike as your first action if less than 90% of your coworkers are willing to commit?
Think of building your campaign as a series of actions that build intensity and participation. An action of higher intensity must have a higher number of participants for it to be successful. A sticker campaign (low intensity) can be successful if just a simple majority of your coworkers participate, but that will not make a successful walk-out (high intensity).
As you plan your actions, you and your committee should gauge support for the actions you want to take. When an action does not yield the results you and your coworkers want, what actions are you willing to take next? Always have your co-workers prepared to take the next step, and use management’s inaction to agitate your co-workers to ramp up the intensity and participation.
You should know what makes your action a success. You may not win your demand, but your actions are successful if they build power. Sometimes, initial actions like these are the seeds of efforts to organize a union at the workplace. If your demands are met, workers will learn that they have more power than they thought and should continue pushing for more of what they deserve. If your demands are not met, you can use that to help workers see that management does not really listen to its workers or care. In either case, you’ve made progress if the need for a more lasting organization of workers has become clearer to you and your coworkers
Guide to Building a Successful Campaign:
- Winnable demands, that are built on widely and deeply felt issues
- Builds power through a series of actions that build participation and intensity
- Always think ahead; what are your next steps?
- Gauge your co-workers’ willingness to engage in certain actions
- Your demands should be in-line with a broader campaign for change
Actions other workers have taken around COVID-19:
Action Example #1:
An owner of a non-union pizza restaurant has remained open during a pandemic. While the restaurant side of the business is closed, the workers have been working making orders for delivery only. Delivery drivers are making their deliveries and leaving orders just outside the doors as instructed, however, because of this the workers are seeing a 90% drop off in tips that they would normally receive. The workers discuss the problem and decide that they want to have a 20% gratuity added to all orders automatically during the pandemic, an option that they know their boss can do with little effort. They gather together and go to meet their boss in his office and demand that they have the automatic gratuity added to all orders. They give a time and date they expect their demand to be met or they will be back.
Because the workers decided to work together to go and make a demand of the boss, their action is protected. They don’t need an “official” union to get things done in the short term– they just need to stick together and work collectively
Action Example #2:
Workers at a City Market Food Coop in Burlington VT organized a campaign for hazard pay by distributing and wearing stickers stating “our lives are worth more”. They printed up signs and had coworkers do a small speakout by writing why they are demanding hazard pay and sharing a picture of it on their facebook page and throughout the community. They were able to secure an additional $3/hr in hazard pay, increased employee discounts in the store, and additional safety measures to be put into place to protect workers.
One of the most basic but effective tactics to take is to present a petition of your demands to management. It shows the boss that many workers care about solving the same problem, not just one or two “troublemakers.” It also builds a list for you, the organizer, of people that you should reach out to as your plans of action develop.
The best petitions are short, with no more than three demands (but it could even just have one!). Set a clear timeline or other measurement (such as number of workers) for how long you’d like to take collecting signatures. If you take too long, you might lose the sense of urgency. When you deliver the petition, or perhaps on the petition itself, be sure to include a date by which you’d like to see a response to your demands. If you don’t have a response from management by that date, you can escalate to your next action.
A paper petition is a good way to keep your petition private from management and the public until you are ready to share it. It’s also the best way to make sure that only workers at your facility are signing on. You’ll need to think about how you can give as many workers as possible the opportunity to sign the petition. It’s best to have a couple different people helping collect signatures. If you’ve developed a diverse organizing committee, this will help you reach your coworkers in different departments and on different shifts. Once you have finished collecting signatures, be sure to make a copy or take pictures. You don’t want the boss to have the only copy.
An online petition is a good tool to use if your coworkers are already working from home or if you want to reach workers of the same employer who might be spread apart, such as in different buildings or different locations. Keep in mind that it is easy for members of the public and management to find online petitions. You may lose the element of surprise. However, if public support would be something that would motivate your boss, it might be an effective choice. One option with online petitions is to have the subject of the petition (your employer or supervisor) receive an email every time someone signs it. This can be really annoying for the boss if a lot of people are taking action!
Delivering your petition can be an action in itself. Consider having multiple coworkers deliver the petition to your boss, or plan to deliver it during a scheduled staff meeting. If possible, take a picture of one or more coworkers holding the petitions for delivery. That way you can show coworkers later.
Talking to the Media
Sometimes you need to go public with your campaign, or a reporter has approached you and your coworkers about your campaign. Media attention can be a good way to put pressure on your employer, but it is no substitute for strong organization with your co-workers, and going to the media too soon, or without preparation, can hurt your campaign.
You should have someone appointed as your media liaison, and that person should be prepared to talk to the media. The media liaison should develop a set of talking points that are concise, to the point, clear and simple. Use concrete examples (“Management is making us re-use masks” not “management is putting us at risk”) and stay positive, active, and focused on the way that you and your co-workers are taking action to protect yourselves and, if relevant, the public. Sharing personal stories is a great way to connect, but make sure you do not share anyone’s story without their permission.
As the media liaison, you should make sure that you keep to the issues, and to not let the press get you worked up. When asked a question, repeat back the question in your response so that your comments are less likely to be taken out of context. When the press tries to get you off topic, make sure you go back to your talking points, repeating yourself if necessary. Remember that you are not trying to convince the reporter, you are talking to the reporter’s audience. They will not report on everything you say, so your job is to get your core message into anything they might quote.