For everyone Power mapping: how to find potential members in your workplace

  • By Louise Swinn
  • This article was published more than 8 months ago.
  • 30 Jul 2023
AEU rep, Samantha McGinty maps out her workplace. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

Workplace mapping is a tool to track the strength of union membership and some AEU reps have been mapping their workplaces with great success.

When Martin Blake, AEU rep and teacher at Camberwell High School, started mapping union membership three years ago, there were 52 members at his school. With the help of his map, he soon turned this number into 78.

“I get the list of who works at Camberwell High School and compare it to the AEU list from the area manager and then I set up a plan,” explains Martin, who is a Leading Teacher of Technology and Arts. “I’ll always try to speak to someone who is new to the school first as a priority,” he says, including those who are first-year grads. “Then I’ll revisit the grads in their second or third year as teachers.”

Other non-members are last. “You try to reach them each year and sometimes you might have some success a few years in. It depends on the person, because every conversation is different, so you need to tailor it to them.”

Martin offers an example: he was able to point out to a leading teacher that the bonus for that role amounted to $1,500 in his pocket as a direct result of the VGSA 2022, negotiated on his behalf by the union. This won his colleague over.

However, simple arguments don’t always work, Martin says, speaking from experience. “You have to keep trying. I’m pretty passionate about it. I try to get everyone to join.”

AEU reps, Martin Blake and Daryl Croke. Photos: Meredith O'Shea

American union organiser and author Jane F. McAlevey says it is about resisting the human urge to spend the most time with those we agree with, pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone. This is where workplace mapping comes in.

In her 2019 book, A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy, McAlevey writes: “To win big, we have to follow the methods of spending very little time engaging with people who already agree, and devote most of our time to the harder work of helping people who do not agree come to understand who is really to blame for the pain in their lives.”

Workplace mapping allows reps to identify where to target their recruitment efforts, using a floorplan, a spreadsheet or a simple staff list. Active members match colleagues to rooms with colour coding to delineate those who are members and those who aren’t. The map can show areas where people naturally socialise throughout the day, and where existing relationships occur. A spreadsheet could have colour-coded areas with reps assigned to focus on speaking to colleagues in the spaces around them.

“If you’re too busy to turn up to a union meeting that’s why you need to go to a union meeting!”

Daryl Croke

When Daryl Croke, Technology Domain Leader at Glenroy College, started workplace mapping, there were 35 union members at his workplace. Now there are 50. “It’s a matter of figuring out why they’d want to join the union – so, for instance, there were some graduate teachers and I talked to them about how their wages increase every year through increments, which came as a result of union action.”

He has support from fellow members, who have some knowledge about the colleagues they sit with. “For instance, if they share the same job role – as a year level coordinator, for example – they might know more about the specific union wins to benefit someone in that role.” 

Using mapping, you ask colleagues to have specific, individualised conversations with those around them, and talk to aspects of union membership that will be most important to them, Daryl says.

“In my experience, a lot of people [who aren’t members] just haven’t been asked to join. Even those who didn’t join – they appreciated the fact that someone took them seriously and had a conversation and gave them a voice.”

Daryl believes that there’s no substitute for one-on-one conversations. “People are too busy to respond to an email or fill out a form – it’s too much of a cognitive load. It’s about figuring out people’s motivations and how joining the union will improve their life. If you’re too busy to turn up to a union meeting that’s why you need to go to a union meeting!” 

Samantha McGinty is the ICT Technician and AEU rep at Sunshine Special Developmental School, which has around 207 students in Prep to Year 12.

“At the end of last year, we did a recruitment drive to target staff who hadn’t been here for very long,” she says. “We organised a morning tea and a raffle with AEU merch. We got six staff members signed up on that one day alone.”

“If people want change, nothing is going to happen if they don’t get involved.”

Samantha McGinty

She is planning to do a new map this year. “Between the end of 2021 and start of 2022, we lost a fair few staff members who were longstanding activist members. The map shows where the pockets lie where there’s no membership.”

Last year, Samantha took part in the WILD (Women in Leadership Development) program, where she learnt a lot about how to get members activated through storytelling, strategising and organising.

“I became the AEU rep in Term 1 of 2022 and I’ve had a lot of coaching and mentoring through my organiser, Krystyna [Edwards],” she says.

“For me, there was a shift when there were big changes in the school, and that gave me the confidence to step up – because, at the end of the day, if people want change, nothing is going to happen if they don’t get involved.”

Samantha mentions a colleague who joined the union last year and immediately got busy, because she wanted to see changes that can only be achieved through collective pressure.

“As someone with an Indian background, she can have conversations with other staff members of different or similar cultures. She has that empathy and understanding,” says Samantha. “That’s why it’s critical to have a high density – a variety of different people, having diverse conversations.”

“You try to reach non-members each year and sometimes you have some success a few years in. It depends on the person because every conversation is different, so you need to tailor it to them.”

Martin Blake

AEU lead organiser Matt Coffey agrees that growing the union can’t just come down to chance. “It’s often quite strategic and requires some planning and commitment by your core sub-branch executive or union leadership team and active members.”

A workplace map highlights the important aspects to consider when you’re creating a plan to build power and grow membership. It might also show up some obvious issues, Matt says. “For example, why is there such low density in the plumbing area at our TAFE? Why are the ES in this one particular part of the school all union strong?

“Who has relationships with these people and can have a conversation? Who is going to best connect with our graduate staff members? What do these folks care about and how can we connect that to a strong union in this workplace?”

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