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Building a more perfect union

Union organizer Jason Mann on the common mistakes that new unions make.

In 2003, Jason Mann grew exponentially more frustrated every week his employer -- a well-known office supply store -- failed to pay him on time. The unionizing drive he helped lead was ultimately unsuccessful, but he left the company determined to put the experience to good use. Ever since, Mann has been a prolific organizer, consulting with countless international unions, including IATSE, Teamsters and SEIU. In 2009, he founded his own Vancouver-based company, Strategic Organizing.

What do you love about union organizing?

I love the process: You start out with a small group of people who are afraid to meet with you in the beginning because they have no power. You watch them slowly become more empowered. They go from a place of being disrespected to feeling they can speak up for themselves.

How is organizing in the U.S. different than in Canada?

In Canada, if a group wants a union they will have a vote within 10 days of calling for one. In the States it could take months.

Where do union drives go wrong?

One of the biggest mistakes is that they send people cold out to the field. They give them a business card and say, "You're a union organizer now." But they're put up against very well-trained consultants and political operatives.

What's a better strategy?

Looking at how other unions are winning. Ultimately, it's not all about the little authorization cards that are handed out. It's about empowering people to stick together. You've got to create a strong organization within the workplace before you try to get certified. That takes specific training. I also think there's a big opportunity now to use social media to talk to nonunion workers. Before, you had to go to workplaces to talk to people, which raised a red flag to employers.

How do you deal with being an object of scorn to many employers?

The reason why a union drive starts is that folks contact the union office. It’s almost always because they’re not being treated with fairness and respect. It’s true that if the boss doesn’t have absolute control over the workplace, they don’t necessarily like that. I can accept that. I know I’m there for the right reason.

Get a copy

Mann’s latest book, “Promoting Your Union: Six Strategies to Get More Organizing Leads and Union Members,” is available for free download at www.promotingyourunion.com/ebookpdf.

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