Power through Professionals’ Participation: Engaging Professional Union Members

From left to right, AFGE’s DeWyngaert, IAFF’s Treglio, AFT’s Kaseman, AEA’s Lorenz, & Penn State’s Clark.

What do sports teams, religious organizations, and unions have in common?

A lot, according to Director and Professor of Penn State’s School of Labor and Employment Relations Paul Clark.

Clark opened the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO’s (DPE’s) Strategies for Effective Member Engagement program on April 6 with a presentation on evidence-based strategies for increasing union member commitment and participation. His research shows that organizations with large, committed followings often have rituals, ceremonies, and rites that tie their members or fans to the organization, and each other — whether it be through a college fight song, a known logo, or a shared religious practice. For a union to be successful, members need to feel connected and be engaged. Clark’s presentation spotlighted key findings from his years of research on cultivating commitment among union members.

Following Clark’s presentation, representatives from four DPE affiliate unions discussed their experiences engaging professional union members who work in an array of industries and sectors. Brandon Lorenz, national communications director of Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), overviewed AEA’s Equity 2020 campaign, which focuses on engaging members and meeting members’ needs today and in the future.

Kaseman speaking on AFT’s strategies to engage members

The American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT’s) Jennifer Kaseman was another panelist and she spoke more broadly on AFT’s engagement with members across the nation.

IAFF Director of Strategic Campaign and Media Relations Mark Treglio discussed growing the IAFF through organizing and member engagement for his panel presentation.

DeWyngaert discusses AFGE’s goals for engagement

The last panelist at the April 6 event was Brian J. DeWyngaert, chief of staff of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), who has 40 years of experience working for AFGE and engaging members. DeWyngaert overviewed how AFGE member engagement strategies have evolved over his tenure with the union. He also outlined AFGE’s goals for the future and spoke on what it means to be a transactional union versus a high participation union.

After the panel’s presentations, Clark moderated a discussion among program attendees — all representatives from DPE’s affiliate unions. The panelists and Clark provided feedback on the strategies attendees had questions about, including using various digital communications tools to connect with members.

DPE looks forward to bringing affiliates together in the future to facilitate more discussions on how to grow stronger, more effective unions of professionals.

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