University of Wisconsin–Madison

Union “onboarding” for new hires

By Professor Don Taylor, School for Workers

September 17, 2018

Does your union have an official union orientation for new employees?   What does it look like?  When we use the term “orientation,” we picture a meeting or session, like in a classroom.  However, we should think more broadly; let’s borrow a term from human resources and think of this as “onboarding.”

Here is a definition of onboarding from a human resource management book: “The process of integrating a new employee with a company and its culture, as well as getting a new hire the tools and information needed to become a productive member of the team.”  Now let’s just change just two words: “The process of integrating a new employee with the union and its culture, as well as getting a new hire the tools and information needed to become a productive member of the union.”  That certainly sounds like what we’re trying to do!

A recent study by the Jobs With Justice Education Fund and Penn State School of Labor and Employment Relations recommends these best practices for union new hire onboarding:

  1. Orient new hires as soon as possible – start socializing new hires on day one, and hold orientation as close as possible to their start date.
  2. Use intention when selecting facilitators – pay attention to the race, gender, and age of new hires when choosing orientation facilitators.
  3. Extend lengths of orientations – research shows the longer the orientation, the more likely new hires are to find it helpful.
  4. Encourage new hires to join the union – find out what matters to them and connect it to their membership and involvement in the union.
  5. Provide quality handouts and freebies – have professional-grade orientation materials.
  6. Strive for excellence – have sharp, high-quality materials and presentations.
  7. Follow up with new hires – union commitment is strongest in new members who experience both formal and informal introductions.  Doing an orientation plus follow up means you’re doing internal organizing!
  8. Be systematic – track orientation participants to assess their engagement in the union.

Excerpted from “Making the Case for Union Membership: The Strategic Value of New Hire Orientations,” by Jobs With Justice Education Fund and Penn State School of Labor and Employment Relations and funded by Union Privilege.  www.jwj.org/newmember