Facebook spurs political outreach

Martin Williams, Local 13

Lodges capitalize on power of social media

KEEPING MEMBERS AWARE of political developments affecting their jobs and unions has become much easier since social media tools became popular, say Boilermakers from several lodges.

Local 13 (Philadelphia) and Local 28, (Newark, N.J.) use Facebook specifically as a resource for political and legislative news and opinions, both at the state and federal levels. The lodges also share such information across their Facebook pages.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Martin Williams, L-13’s Vice President, who with Ed Harkins developed a Facebook presence for the local about two years ago. Both men have been politically active for some time and have served on their state labor political action committee (PAC). Williams is L-13’s Political Action Committee chairman; Harkins is a member of the lodge’s PAC.

Harkins noted that after the 2010 mid-term elections, when union-friendly legislators lost their majority in the U.S. House, and with general elections coming up in 2012, he and Williams sought a better way to get out a pro-union message. They acted on a recommendation by Abe Breehey (the late Legislative Director with the Department of Government Affairs) to develop a Facebook presence.

“One of the best things about Facebook is that it’s free,” said Harkins. “Labor organizations don’t always have a lot of money to spend. And it’s very simple to put together.”

Williams agreed. “It’s going well. We learn things every day, such as what content resonates with our members. Every day you try to post things that you think would be of interest. We support Government Affairs and help register people to vote. It’s great to have Cecile and Bridget as our eyes and ears in Washington.”

Cecile Conroy is the Boilermakers’ Legislative Affairs Director, Bridget Martin is the union’s Political Affairs Director.

Harkins added that Facebook can also be used to mobilize members for political activities.

“When several area refineries in our area threatened to close down, we kept our members informed and mobilized them for bus trips to rallies in Harrisburg [Pennsylvania’s capital] and D.C.,” he said. “It’s also a way to engage the public; we sometimes get public posts. Social media is another communications tool along with email blasts, local websites, and in-person discussions on the job site.”

Local 28 inspector Dan Engle administers his lodge’s Facebook presence. “We share a lot of information with Martin and Ed,” he said. “New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania politics are very similar.”

Engle noted that it’s not unusual to get feedback from locals around the country. “I get ‘likes’ (digital expressions of support that link to other Facebook pages) from Wisconsin all the way out to Pittsburg, California.” He estimates that most of those interacting with the L-28 Facebook page fall into the 20 to 38 age group. “Younger guys are showing a lot more interest in labor politics, even apprentices.”

Williams, Harkins, and Engle all stress the importance of getting a buy-in from the lodge leadership before developing a Facebook page on behalf of the local. There’s also the requirement to monitor incoming posts to avoid rumors, inaccuracies, and unnecessary conflict.

“I’m careful to make sure information being posted is accurate and comes from reliable sources,” said Engle, “not someone’s personal agenda or an extremist blog. I’ll research the information if I have to. The guys want honesty out of it. I stay away from hot-button issues like guns and abortion. That’s not what this is about. You have to separate your personal views on these issues and don’t bring heat to the page.”

“We do our due diligence [to screen] what goes out,” Harkins agreed. “In two years, we’ve only had to block two people.”

Other Boilermaker locals across North America maintain Facebook pages as well, often for general member interaction, news, and announcements. The International and the Department of Government Affairs also maintain pages at http://www.facebook.com/Boilermakers.Union and http://www.facebook.com/boilermakers.legislative, respectively.

Local 13’s political Facebook page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/BM13PAC. Local 28’s page is at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boilermakers-Local-28-Political-Page/23259....