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Enhancing Millennial Union Recruitment Efforts

By Heather Kerrigan | Jun 24, 2019

To ensure your union's continued strength, it's vital to include and engage millennials and other younger workers. The generation born between 1981 and 1996 makes up 35% of the U.S. labor force, according to the Pew Research Center, and their numbers will only continue to grow in the coming years. But while it's clear that millennials are driving union membership, be careful not to take this trend for granted.

Here's how to leverage and adapt your existing structure to aid millennial union recruitment efforts.

Communicating With Younger Members

First, communicate with younger members or potential members in the way they want to be reached. Utilize technology and connect with them through social media, text or email. It will also help to optimize these communications for mobile devices. Your messaging should be concise and less formal than what you may be used to. Without being condescending, use a familiar, friendly tone.

As you amend your communications to be more millennial-friendly, you need to balance the needs of your wider multigenerational membership. Millennials likely aren't the entirety of your member base, or even the majority. So, while you should create communications in formats geared toward younger members, maintain the traditional outreach that your older members are comfortable with and have come to expect.

Engaging Millennials

Millennials are civic-minded and seek purpose in what they do. Union membership allows them to fulfill their desire to make a difference. When onboarding younger members, be explicit about how they can become involved in union activities and how they benefit the larger member base. Encourage these new members to bring forth ideas they have that might fit within the existing structure of union activism, and discuss their perspective and why the approach may be beneficial. Offer regular, informal opportunities to engage with board members or union stewards to share this feedback.

Letting your younger members get involved from day one — and giving them some say in helping the union thrive — is a tactic you can utilize to attract other millennials who are also seeking to become part of something authentic.

Building Benefits for Younger Members

Millennials are drawn to unions for some of the same reasons as their older counterparts: They want fair wages, safe working conditions, health benefits, equality in the workplace and a voice. They seek an improved quality of life, and the benefits you offer must reflect that. Recruiting firm LaSalle Network found that a desire for better benefits is a top reason why millennials become dissatisfied with a career path and start looking for new opportunities, according to CNBC.

As you bargain with employers, keep millennial desires in mind. Providing a robust health care package that offers affordable choices, both medical and mental health care and wellness options are good places to start. Other benefits should include a pension or other retirement package and ongoing personal and career development. If possible, partner with the employer to offer student loan payback as a way to recruit millennials.

Onboarding to the Union Culture

Another Pew Research Center study found that individuals in the 18-to-29 demographic have the most favorable view of unions out of any age cohort. As you onboard new, younger members, harness that enthusiasm to begin integrating them into your culture. In the initial information you send to a new member, or during an in-person meeting, explain the union's mission and values. Explore how they line up with the member's motivation to join. If you have willing long-term members, assign each new millennial member a mentor who can help them navigate the benefits of union membership. Encourage the mentor to invite the new member to upcoming union events.

Don't make the onboarding process the last time you address culture with the new member; check in periodically to discuss how the new member is fitting in. You can even ask their mentor or a union steward whether they have expressed any concerns or had any trouble getting settled. If that's the case, work on a plan to address the issue.

Millennials want to feel not only that their voices are heard, but also that the union understands and best represents their values. The purpose, community, solidarity and experience they seek are easy to find in the union structure. Use that to your advantage in your union recruitment efforts.

Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.