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Kentucky Labor Movement Embraces Social Media

Photo by Jason A. Howie/Flickr

This old reporter remembers when “social media” meant a bunch of newshounds bending elbows in a bar after work.

Bo Johnson defines it differently. Social media, specifically text messaging, "Is the single best way for us to get the word out to our members," says the vice president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.

Johnson made his point at a recent council meeting.

“How often do you ignore emails?” he polled the delegates.

“All the time,” one replied.

“OK, how often do you ignore text messages?” he followed up.

“Almost never,” another delegate chipped in.

The comments prompted a grin and a knowing nod from Johnson, who is also a staff representative for AFSCME Council 62. From Clay, Ky., Johnson packs an iPhone in one pocket and his union card in another. “I couldn’t do without either,” he says.

Johnson uses Facebook and text messaging to spread the union word.

My Facebook friends can comment on what I send out. It gets them involved. That’s what makes it great.

Social media experts back him up. They say social media users want dialogue, not a monologue. Check out the third edition of How to Use Social Media for Your Union from the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Sahid Fawaz, a social media consultant in New Orleans, admits he doesn’t know if social media is here to stay. "But it’s here right now. I think of social media as where people hang out nowadays. It's where all the traffic is.”

Fawaz's firm, Labor Think, focuses on unions and non-profit organizations.

"Facebook is one of the largest sources of traffic anywhere, eclipsed only by Google," says Fawaz, who was communications director for the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM). He adds:

Everywhere you go, you see people checking Facebook on their phones all the time. You check your email at home, too. But on Facebook, people are checking their news feeds or emails to see what’s new and exciting. When you check your email at home in the morning, chances are you are looking at what to delete and not expecting to find something new and exciting. So for unions, social media is just a great way to get the word out.

Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president, sees another advantage of social media: It can turn apathy into activism, especially among younger union members.

We are constantly hearing about how there are not enough young workers involved in the labor movement and about the need to reach out to them. These young workers get their information and motivation through social media and emerging communications technology. If we are to rebuild the labor movement, we must embrace social media and the Internet to communicate with and inform younger workers of their rights and their need to partner with other workers in order to protect their rights and build a new union movement.

Londrigan practices what he preaches. The Kentucky Unified Labor 2013-2014 Political Action Plan emphasizes the use of social media and communications technology to reach more union members as next year's elections approach.

Berry Craig, recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.
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