Building the union

Recruiting new members and organising the union in workplaces is the main priority of the branch. The two sectors we represent growing sectors of the media and offer huge opportunities for the union to grow.

However, it’s not just about the union getting bigger – building the union in more workplaces makes things better for the people who work there. Our members in organised workplaces – whether it’s the BBC, The Guardian or Penguin Random House – have more say in what happens at work. It’s far from perfect, but when our members stand together they can change things for the better.

If you’re reading this and are not yet a member, there are many personal reasons to join. If you have a problem at work as a union member, you are legally entitled to file a grievance and be represented by a union rep. If you get in trouble and face a disciplinary, you are also legally entitled to have a union rep in any formal meetings to support you.

And, if the worst comes to the worst and you’re facing redundancy, it’s the same thing – you should, by law, have a right to be represented. If you’re not a member, you do have the right to be accompanied by a colleague, but they usually don’t have the training and experience of an official union rep.

The NUJ also runs training courses to help journalists improve their skills – most are open to all, but a lot cheaper for members. And, of course, if you’re involved in news-gathering and need to identify yourself in public, the NUJ is the largest provider of a national press card in Britain (and the only one in Ireland).

That’s why people talk about joining a union as a form of insurance – the union will help you if things go bad.

It’s worth looking at the insurance metaphor a bit more closely, though. If you buy a new car and pay for insurance, does that mean you’ll do nothing to keep the car in the best shape you can? Does owning insurance mean you won’t get the car serviced, will ignore any problems and just use the insurance when the car breaks down on the side of the road? Most people will care for their car a bit more – and shouldn’t everyone try to do the same in their workplace?

Unions are about a lot more than just being there when things go wrong. Too often, when things go wrong, it’s too late to save the member’s job. A union rep will try to negotiate the best outcome for a member, but increasingly, that means negotiating a Settlement Agreement whereby the member gets some money and leaves the company. Often, at this point, members accept any offer on the table because things at work have been allowed deteriorate to such a point that they don’t want to go back to work.

An organised workplace union can do a lot to stop things going wrong in the first place. Campaigning against bullying, negotiating policies and procedures that protect workers, fighting cuts that put more stress on the workers left behind – these are just some of the things that unions can do to help members.

However, it’s very difficult to do this in workplaces with only one or two members and no formal relationship with the company. Of course, in some cases it’s unavoidable – there many only be one or two NUJ eligible roles in the workplace, for example, where there’s one press officer in a manufacturing company or a social media officer for a bank.

However, that’s not the case in most situations where we have only one or two members. In many cases, the potential NUJ membership is considerably more and, where more than 20 people in all work for the company, we could be looking at formal recognition, voluntary or statutory, whereby the company would talk to the union about pay, conditions and other issues.

If you’ve got colleagues who are journalists, PRs, web designers, photographers, editors or any of the other eligible NUJ roles, let’s see if we can recruit them. If you’re able to talk to them in confidence, suggest it yourself. If that’s a bit awkward, have a look at upcoming events in our branch calendar and invite them along.

If you need help, get in touch. That’s what we’re here for – to help you. There’s lots of recruitment material available – most of it is free, but branches can help pay for anything that isn’t.

Even better, the branch has the budget to put on recruitment events – get in touch, suggest some things your colleagues might enjoy. Get them into the union, get organised and start making things better in work. Don’t wait until things go bad.