Recruiting workmates to the union can be incredibly rewarding, whether the result of significant effort or simply asking a colleague if they’ve thought to join.
When asked what it was that resulted in the recruitment of nine new members to the union earlier this year, Glenroy College digitech teacher Daryl Croke doesn’t miss a beat. “It was my good looks and fantastic personality.” He laughs. “No – I attribute my success to the campaign hub training. I learnt a variety of strategies and tactics there.”
He says it is essential for staff to hear positive messages from their colleagues about the union and the importance of getting involved in campaigns. “I got in touch and said I’d like to tee up a time for us to talk about them joining the AEU. We would have half-hour conversations. Most of that time was just me listening to what they had to say.”
Many of these workmates had never been approached individually about joining the union. “But even the people I couldn’t sign up, I found out why and their particular issues, and now I can gradually address those issues over time.”
Those one-on-one conversations take time, so it needs to be a joint effort, Daryl says. “I got other people to have conversations with the people they knew best. We built a dream team around us. I identified the activists in the branch, had a meeting with them, mapped the school and who was and wasn’t a member, and we divided names up and figured out the best approach for each person.
“If someone has a close relationship with that person, and knows their story, they will know how best to talk to them about their issues.”
“It’s about someone’s history – if someone has a close relationship with that person, and knows their story, then they will know how best to talk to them about their issues. Divide the tasks up. Expand the activist base.”
He cites American union organiser Jane McAlevey – author of A Collective Bargain: unions, organising, and the fight for democracy – as his inspiration. McAlevey writes about how best to map a workplace and build recruitment, and these ideas have influenced Daryl’s recruitment practice.
Haley Clancy from Staughton College in Melton has also been prioritising genuine conversations, doing a targeted drive in the lead up to industrial action. She split her targets into groups. The first was graduate teachers – at the start of the year, she gave them an introduction to the AEU. “Many didn’t know what the union would and could do for them,” Haley says.
Secondly, she focused on ES staff, from the office and admin staff to IT and library technicians to integration aides. “I explained how the union is definitely for them as well, particularly looking at ES wages and recognition, and talking about the ‘Dear James’ letter campaign and the Megaphone petition.”
“We need a show of strength and solidarity, and to support one another.”
The third group she approach were lapsed members. “Mostly they had just forgotten and were happy to rejoin.”
The fourth group were the remaining staff who had never been members of the union. “I explained that we don’t yet have a new Schools Agreement. I highlighted that we need a show of strength and solidarity, and to support one another.”
As well as these conversations, Haley sends regular emails and daily briefings to all staff, updating them on union news and encouraging colleagues to get involved. “Be accessible and available,” Haley advises. “Offer transparency around processes and talk about the benefits that are available to them specifically. It’s all about solidarity. I’m here, even if you’re not a union member; I’m here to support you as educators.”
Having been at her school for seven years, Haley knows the community, the culture of the school and the values of the staff. In her second year as union rep, she feels confident about what works when recruiting new members. “Also, the AEU pens, lanyards and merch help – they get snapped up!”
And, if in doubt, you can always resort to a Simpsons reference. When Haley put out an email with a Simpsons meme, three people who signed up said that’s what made up their mind!
At Truganina P-9 College, union reps Calvin Tran and Taylor Rhodes have had a lot of success this year, recruiting more than 30 new members – though Taylor is quick to note: “It really didn’t involve much effort on my part.” For many, she says, all that was required was the ask.
“Banners, t-shirts, lanyards… Symbolism!”
For others, Calvin organised half-hour sessions to have an in-depth conversation. “We’re all in the same boat,” he says. “They hear from us about the ways in which the union is fighting for their rights and making improvements at the school.
“For example, people would be asked to do yard duty and outside-of-school-hours meetings, and I was able to tell them that they don’t have to attend – it’s in the Agreement. Then they would ask, ‘What’s the Agreement?’ So, I educated the other staff I was working alongside.”
Calvin joined the AEU while at university, after being told that if you were ever subject to a misconduct allegation, you would need the union. But while that provided the initial impetus, union membership has become about so much more, he says. “The union fights for all of our conditions.”
Both Calvin and Taylor have completed AEU reps training. Taylor runs several Webex ‘rooms’ in which she shares union advice with small groups. They also host regular sub-branch meetings to discuss workplace issues and how to deal with them, and there is an ongoing conversation with leadership.
“There is true consultation between principal and staff at our school,” Calvin says. “There are a lot of grad teachers and young staff members. It is my seventh year as a teacher, and I am one of the more experienced teachers at the school. There is a great culture – we hang out together.”
Next year, he plans to make the union more visible in the workplace and help promote its relevance. “Banners, t-shirts, lanyards… Symbolism!” says Calvin. “Now, we are at the point where we have strong union membership right across the school. People know that if they have an issue, they can ask their reps.”