SEIU Local 2015
SEIU Local 2015 and BerlinRosen Use Text Messaging to Dramatically Raise Unionization Rates
Challenge: How do you help workers at nursing homes unionize?
SEIU Local 2015 is the largest home care and nursing home workers’ union in the country. They represent workers throughout California.
Local 2015 wanted to help more nursing home sites unionize. But they confronted a problem. Nursing home workers can be difficult to reach. They spend their lives on their feet. Some shifts are on-duty in the daytime; others work at night. Workers speak a variety of languages. Often, they don’t have reliable access to the Internet.
Local 2015 worked with their communications consultants at BerlinRosen to find a solution.
“These people need unions more than most,” said John Axelrod, a digital account executive at BerlinRosen. “They’re facing unpredictable hours and poor wages. Having a union on-site allows them to collectively bargain and get a much more advantageous work situation through a better contract.”
How could Local 2015 and BerlinRosen successfully reach nursing home workers and organize successful unionization campaigns?
Solution: A text messaging campaign to inspire workers & send them to the polls
Local 2015 and BerlinRosen realized that nursing home workers might not have easy access to email or social media, but they do have cell phones. An SMS campaign could reach workers no matter where they were.
“SMS allows us to reach people where they live and where they work, using language that’s meaningful to them,” said Alisa Rivera, Communications Manager at Local 2015.
“The only way you can guarantee you’ll reach everyone is sending them a text message to their phone number,” said Axelrod.
Local 2015 and BerlinRosen launched a text message campaign to keep workers inspired, counter any misinformation from management, and ultimately send workers to the polls on election day.
The first message in every unionization campaign is a “March on the Boss” video. The video shows the workers marching into their employer and declaring their intention to unionize. The rousing message typically gets some of the campaign’s highest clicks and sets the tone for what will follow.
Campaigns can last anywhere from two weeks to a month and a half, so throughout that time the messages keep workers motivated and engaged. They send out gifs, motivational videos, quotes, and photos.
“We try to make things fun,” said Amber Avines, a Communications Specialist for Local 2015. “We keep our messages optimistic to remind members that this is an exciting time – this is a time for change for them and their families.”
Giving Members a Voice through User-Generated Content
“To me, the most important part of SMS is to amplify the voices and experiences of the people on the ground,” said Rivera.
With that in mind, Local 2015 asks members to send in photos of themselves and their family, which they then broadcast to the entire list.
“Organizations tend to speak from an impersonal, organizational perspective,” said Rivera. “This SMS program has allowed us to give the workers themselves a voice.”
Using Multiple Languages to Reach Everyone
Many nursing home workers speak languages other than English, so Local 2015 took advantage of Upland Mobile Messaging’s capability to send messages in multiple languages – even using non-Roman alphabets.
At one facility, for example, they found that half the workers were Indian and many others were Hispanic. The younger workers had been translating the text messages for the older workers.
“We weren’t even sure if we’d be able to send texts using Punjabi characters, but Upland Mobile Messaging could do it,” said Avines. “Mobile Messaging allowed us to send our texts in three languages – English, Spanish, and Punjabi. That was an important way to make everyone feel included.”
Segmented messages reach workers, no matter what their hours
Local 2015’s workers are shift workers, and some work the night shift. Often they’ll be isolated from their peers, and outside the loop of typical workplace information flow. They can miss daytime messages – or worse, a message sent at the wrong moment might wake them up when they’re trying to catch a few hours of precious sleep.
So Local 2015 started segmenting their messages, so that the night shift workers received their messages right when they were arriving at work in the evening.
“We made them feel included and valued,” said Rivera. “And we ended up winning night-shift members over to our campaign.”
Driving to the Polls
Of course, the heart of every campaign is driving union election turnout. SEIU and BerlinRosen keep workers informed about the election date, time, and location.
Then, on election day, the campaign builds support by using text messaging and social media in concert. For example, the campaign launches a Snapchat filter at the site. When the campaign is won, Local 2015 sends an SMS to direct workers to their Facebook page, so they can see the messages from other union members welcoming them to the family.
Results: Unionization rates skyrocket from 50% to 89%
Before implementing text messaging, Local 2015 had approximately a 50% rate of winning unionization at nursing homes.
Since they launched their SMS campaign, Local 2015 and BerlinRosen have worked together to unionize nine nursing homes, and won elections at eight of them. That’s an 89% success rate.
The ninth they lost by just 3 votes.
Local 2015 started their program small, but it has since grown into a major part of their organization. “With each campaign, we have the chance to test something new and evaluate it,” said Rivera. “If I’m going to give advice to another organization, I’d recommend getting a bare-bones program started and adding to it gradually.”
Now, they’re expanding their use of SMS even further.
“SMS has been so successful in our growth, that we have expanded it through the entire organization,” said Rivera.