Essential Expressions: Labor Messaging Through the Crises of 2020

The four overlapping crises of 2020 – public health, racial justice, the economy, and democracy – obligated labor communicators to message in radically different ways.

There is much to learn from the prolonged period of crisis communications. This page is dedicated to extracting lessons from the atypical communications work ILCA members performed in 2020.

Members are invited to submit collateral of any kind that is instructive and exemplary. The work reflects a message, approach, strategy, tactic, technique, collaboration, or other feature developed in the context of crisis.

Imagine the audience is junior staff or, better yet, college students. You’re giving a guest lecture to people who lack your subject-matter expertise. You have limited time to make your points and your audience has a limited attention span.

Submit your “guest lecture” as a written narrative or a video to accompany your collateral. Explain the circumstances, purpose, and outcome of the collateral. Teach the lessons you learned.

You can submit individual pieces of collateral or you can write a case study following examples of the American Federation of Government Employees and the postal workers’ unions.

The essence of livelihood was threatened by four major forces. In response, ILCA members created essential expressions to voice the humanitarian needs of working families in crisis. When aggregated, these expressions can represent a textbook to preserve history and educate present and future generations of labor communicators.

Submit material to info@ilcaonline.org and put Essential Expressions in the subject line or body text. Please send ASAP; late fall 2021 deadline TBD. There is no fee and no limit on the number of submissions. All teachable collateral is welcome.

Video Meeting Tips: How to Put Your Best Electronic Face Forward

Google and Facebook recently announced that employees will work from home until mid 2021. This confirms the intuitive sense that the remote situation isn’t just a short-term emergency response. It will be a while.

Like it or not, online meetings are standard practice. Here are a few resources to make the most of the brave, new, digital-only meeting room.

On its blog, AFGE presents 8 Video Conference Tips for Union Activists:

The AFL-CIO conducted a training entitled Video Tools and Processes: Zoom, Interviews, and Editing. Use password Video123! to view the recording. Follow along with the slides.

Wired magazine explains How to Make Your Video Calls Look and Sound Better. The subhead alone contains some key guidance: “Natural light is your friend. Audio feedback is your worst enemy.” Heed the tips so you’re not that square on the Zoom meeting.

Crisis Communications Case Study: Power to the Postal People

Every labor communicator is responding to minute-by-minute changes in policies and practices affecting workers’ livelihoods. ILCA members are challenged to process, manage and disseminate essential information to both internal and external audiences. Just by doing our work, labor communicators are producing real-time, textbook examples of crisis communications case studies. In this series, we’re profiling national newsmakers who are amplifying labor’s call to protect the physical and economic health of workers. We’re looking at the strategies and tactics shaping their crisis communications to extract lessons and best practices that are proving effective in this demanding moment.

Unions: American Postal Workers Union and National Association of Letter Carriers

The situation: Every American knows that the United States Postal Service delivers medicine, paychecks and other essentials of life. What’s more, postal employees are woven into the social fabric of the communities they serve. Residents see their familiar letter carriers delivering to households six or even seven days a week. Other job classifications are working in post offices, sorting facilities, and warehouses to route mail to the people depending on it. Workers and the public share the same interdependent goals – to uphold essential jobs and effective service delivery. The Postal Service is under unprecedented attack from the White House and corporate interests that want to see privatized postal delivery. As always, labor is fighting back, supported by allies from all walks of life.

Postal people speak: Postal employee unions are letting their members do the talking. On the NALC Heroes Delivering website, viewers can find videos of the union’s paid ads featuring workers. And letter carriers are getting the message out in letters, op-eds and interviews in news stories around the country.

The campaign got a boost from the AFL-CIO communications shop, which produced this video featuring a letter carrier.

NALC is using its Twitter feed to spotlight its members, telling short stories about the socially beneficial and sometimes life-saving assistance that members lend to people in need.

The union also is posting news developments combined with a call to action.

Postal day of action: APWU took the lead to stage a Day of Action on June 23. It centered around a Washington, D.C., car caravan to deliver #SaveThePostOffice petitions to Congress.

Here’s a short APWU video urging the public to lobby for postal service funding.

Here’s an hourlong video of the APWU and allies delivering more than two million petition signatures to the Senate.

These videos and much more appear on the APWU’s campaign page.

Celebrity endorsements: APWU enlisted the support of celebrities to advocate for the Postal Service.

Here’s a public service announcement from actor Danny Glover, the son of two postal workers.

Page one: A letter carrier was profiled on A1 of the Sunday Los Angeles Times, among other small and large newspapers nationwide.

Communications strategies: NALC Communications Director Phil Dine summarizes the campaign status. “With the drop in letter mail volume resulting from the pandemic-caused economic shutdown, the Postal Service — which operates on earned revenue, not on taxpayer money — is feeling the impact, as are other sectors of the economy,” Dine says. “Letter mail is the most profitable mail revenue stream and it has dipped significantly. As a result, temporary federal financial assistance during the pandemic is necessary for the Postal Service, as it is for other sectors of the economy. At the very time the Postal Service is facing this financial crisis, USPS is more necessary than ever, with letter carriers and other postal employees putting themselves at risk by doing their jobs so tens of millions of Americans can shelter at home and help bend the curve of the virus. NALC is letting Americans, and their elected representatives, know this by getting the word out through the news media.”

Here are some of the ways APWU Communications Director Emily Harris has found success. In her words:

Here are some of the ways the NALC’s Dine has found success. In his words:

“We deliver the essential points to the public through the media. Among them: the U.S. Postal Service is based in the Constitution. It is by far the most popular federal agency, with more than 90 percent approval from Americans of all political views and in all regions, meaning that this is not a partisan issue. It earns its revenue by selling stamps and other products and services. It is critical for businesses, small and large, and for the elderly.

“USPS is a lifeline for rural communities and center of civic life for small towns. Through its universal network, it delivers to every home and address in the country for the same price, regardless of zip code. It is the centerpiece of the $1.3-trillion national mailing industry, which employs seven million Americans in the private sector. It is the largest employer of military veterans in the country, with nearly one-quarter of letter carriers and other postal employees wearing their second uniform.

“The USPS provides Americans with the most affordable postal services of any industrial country. On a daily basis, letter carriers notice fires, medical emergencies, missing children, crimes in progress, and traffic accidents. By stepping in or calling for help, letter carriers save lives.

“We regularly get these points (and, more broadly, the public’s stake in all this) across in letters or commentary pieces in newspapers, from national papers to local ones; in print, television or radio interviews; or by informing reporters working on news stories. Biggest single key: talk directly to individual editors, producers or reporters; do not rely on press releases or emails. And tell them why they and their audience should care.”

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If you have a question for the communications strategists profiled here, please post a comment below or send it to info@ilcaonline.org. If you value this type of peer-to-peer learning, please support ILCA so we can continue to produce this series. Please renew your membership today and enter our annual Labor Media Awards contest.

Crisis Communications Case Study: AFGE

Every labor communicator is responding to minute-by-minute changes in policies and practices affecting workers’ livelihoods. ILCA members are challenged to process, manage, and disseminate essential information to both internal and external audiences. Just by doing our work, labor communicators are producing real-time, textbook examples of crisis communications case studies. In this new series, we’ll profile national newsmakers who are amplifying labor’s call to protect the physical and economic health of workers. We’ll look at the strategies and tactics shaping their crisis communications to extract lessons and best practices that are proving effective in this demanding moment.

Union: American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

Communications Strategist: Andrew Huddleston, AFGE Communications Director and ILCA Executive Council member

The situation: “We represent 700,000 employees in 70 federal agencies, spread across the U.S. and around the globe,” says Huddleston. “What we’ve done is pursue a strategy of rotating, targeted aggression among agencies. We’re focused around a few simple, easy-to-understand central themes: Lack of proper PPE and testing, lack of proper telework and leave policies to accommodate workers, hiring freezes and resulting short-staffing and its impact on readiness and response, and the way anti-union actions by this administration have hampered the response to COVID-19. You may have also seen that we’ve sued the federal government for hazardous duty pay on behalf of all federal employees forced to expose themselves to the novel coronavirus.

“We began our initial response at Social Security and Customs and Immigration, where our early stories about telework pushed the Office of Personnel Management to issue stronger and stronger guidance. We moved to TSA, where we pressured the administration into providing N95 masks for TSOs. At the Bureau of Prisons, our media work helped stem the flow of inmate transfers throughout the country.

“We’re pairing that media strategy with an internal communications strategy that includes daily email alerts and digital actions for our local leaders, weekly updates for our members specifically about coronavirus, p2p and mass texting, and a weekly email highlighting our media work so our members understand our level of visibility. We are also exploring options for a potential digital advertising buy.”

In late April, AFGE targeted the Veterans Administration. In partnership with other unions representing VA workers, AFGE co-organized joint actions, letters, and statements.

Here are some media tactics AFGE used:

AFGE created a COVID-19 microsite, which includes a resources page with animated educational videos that have more than 15,000 views.

Sometimes a populist meme sends just the right message.

As it continues to assess individual agencies, the union is reinforcing its principles for returning to work. Labor communicators are encouraged to follow AFGE’s microsite and social media accounts for updates.

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If you have a question for the communications strategist profiled here, please post a comment below or on Facebook. You can also send it to info@ilcaonline.org. If you value this type of peer-to-peer learning, please support ILCA so we can continue to produce this series. Please renew your membership today and enter our annual Labor Media Awards contest.