FOR SOME BOILERMAKERS, engaging with elected officials and advocating for Boilermaker interests is comfortable—almost second nature. For others, even the idea of sitting down with a legislator is daunting. Or downright scary. It doesn’t have to be. Following are 10 tips to put your best face forward and make sure the Boilermaker voice is heard on important political issues.
Use resources provided by the Boilermakers Department of Government Affairs.
The Department of Government affairs has its office in Washington, D.C., and staff there work hard to keep up with issues and build relationships with policy makers—as well as with allies who share Boilermaker concerns. Not only do they ensure Boilermakers leadership is informed about and well connected to important issues, but they curate resources for all members, including fact sheets outlining key points, toolkits, information on political leaders and more. Resources are available online at www.boilermakers.org/LEAP (located within the Members section of the website).
Review the issues ahead of time.
Whether it’s energy, the Jones Act, pensions or a local issue, before you pick up the phone to set up a meeting or fire off an email to an elected official, make sure you understand the issue well—and the Boilermakers’ official position on it. Don’t go in cold and expect to read the info from your smartphone on the fly! The Department of Government Affairs creates fact sheets each year on key issues impacting Boilermakers on the national level. Use those to prepare. (Three current issues are included in this Reporter.) When in doubt, contact the Department of Government Affairs at (202) 756-2868.
Keep it simple.
Most often, legislators aren’t trying not to understand an issue or point of view. They’re simply bombarded multiple ways by multiple people who have multiple agendas on multiple topics. Your best bet to get your message through all that clutter, says Shawn Steffee, an assistant business manager for Local 154, (Pittsburgh) who speaks often about the complex topic of carbon capture, use and storage: “You’ve got to keep it simple. They don’t know what we know; so, explain the basics, and when you get their attention, then hit them with more information or technical information.” He advises leaving behind an information piece that has more details—for example, the CCUS video brochure “CCS: Bridge to a Cleaner Energy Future.”
Do your research.
Before you meet with a policy maker, check out his or her bio on their website to find out a little about them. Find out what committees they’re on. Not only will you find their positions on certain issues, but you might also discover some personal connections you can refer to when you meet. Tom Ryan, president of Local 5, Zone 5 (Floral Park, New York) notes that even the waiting areas in congressional offices provide insight. He advises looking at maps to understand exactly the geographic areas they cover and to look for other clues you can use to connect personally with them. “If you can find out if they’re married, have kids, have been in a branch of the military, those are things that can get the conversation going, and maybe you can relate to them on a personal level. Those connections grab their attention and help our messages stick more,” says Ryan.
Find personal connections.
Use those personal connections to break the ice and begin building a personal relationship with the legislator. “Many representatives are in office for decades and decades,” says Ryan. “So the better relationship you can build with them, the more they’ll remember you and your message. There’s a benefit when you walk into their office and they know who you are and remember things about you—they’re more receptive and their ears open up. Remember: They’re working long, hard hours and meeting with hundreds of people, so to capture their attention for that short time you have with them is very important.”
Find common ground.
In addition to personal connections, find common ground on issues you know they agree with you on. Ryan notes that he has spoken to several “vehemently anti-union” representatives, so he opens the conversation to talk about the energy industry—an important issue for Boilermakers and one which he knows the representatives share the Boilermaker’s position on fossil fuels. “Being Boilermakers, we can beat the energy drum and the national defense drum,” he notes. “They’re sometimes surprised that you’re union, and suddenly they’re more attentive. When we find common ground on issues, we can talk about things we’re at odds about, and they’re more receptive.”
Don’t go alone.
“In the Boilermakers, you’re learning in the field while you’re ‘doing,’” Ryan says. “It’s the same for political action. I was blessed to learn from those who went before me. It’s a team effort.” If you’re a Boilermaker who’s passionate about and comfortable meeting with politicians, invite the next generation to learn; and if you’re interested in getting involved, seek out a mentor to follow. Plus, in addition to preparing the next Boilermaker advocates, having two people in the meeting provides relief to both and adds another interesting voice to the mix.
Start conversations about your political issues with allies you’re comfortable with, as well as with friends who may have differing viewpoints. Make sure you’re solid on your knowledge about the issues, and practice your messages on them to see what works best for your style and what doesn’t.
Attend LEAP and other prep opportunities.
Although LEAP was cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference is the perfect place to learn about Boilermaker issues, lobby legislators and even get a crash course on the political process if needed. Look for other opportunities to learn about topics pertinent to Boilermakers.
Remember: Your vote counts.
“There are two things that drive politics: Money and votes,” Ryan says. “We don’t have a lot of money at the local level, but we have a lot of votes. Our members are the constituents, and that’s how we get meetings with policy makers.” Of course, in order for those constituents’ votes to count, they have to, well, vote. Make sure you are registered, promote registration and voting to your Boilermaker brothers and sisters, understand the issues and politicians that impact the union and Boilermaker work, and then make sure you get out and vote!