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:
- Rapid response press release to counter management claims
- Rachel Maddow Show newsclip; Explains Huddleston, “It illustrates how all this is tying together. The night before this special report, she broke down an article from Government Executive that we placed and sent to her.”
- A daily newsletter which incorporated voices from all levels of the campaign. It quotes a frontline VA worker and features a compelling press clip. It highlights new online resources and includes a simple call to action that the reader can click to do.
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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