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How Vision Can Help Your Local Union Grow

Note: This is my third post on how we should address the challenges facing the labor movement today. Click here to read Part I focusing on leadership development. Click here to read Part II focusing on communications.

Make Vision Your First Priority

Prioritize your vision and put your "big rocks" first.

Prioritize your vision and put your “big rocks” first.

So many of us get caught up in the day-to-day business of running our local, we don’t take time to think about the future. We’re responding to members, arguing over jurisdiction and running to meetings. We’re outmanned, outgunned and completely exhausted.

There’s a famous “time management” story about how to pack rocks in a jar.  If you put all the small pieces in first, you won’t be able to fit the big rocks. On the other hand, if you put the big rocks in first, you usually can find space for the smaller stones and pebbles.

As a former stagehand, I wondered, is this a demonstration on how to fit lots of things into a small space?

Turns out, not at all. The story is meant to illustrate that if you don’t deal with the big rocks first, you’ll never get to them at all.

Which brings me to vision, one of the most important traits a strong union leader must have.

Developing Your Vision

Define your local’s vision. Where do you want to be in five years? What contracts do you need to secure? Where can you grow?  What do you need to do to grow?  How do you plan for your members’ retirement?

The answer to these questions and more will set you on the path to creating a vision for your local. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the path can wind aimlessly and take wrong turns. It’s your job to right the ship and stay the course. Follow the process. Your goal is to make a little progress each day.

How do you get there?

Block out an hour at least twice a week (no calls, no Internet) and think about the future of your local. Set some goals. Then bring in your leadership team and talk about how you’re going to get to those goals.  Remember, none of us is as smart as all of us.

Meet at least once a month and review your progress.

Turning Vision Into Goals

What kinds of goals am I talking about? Here’s an example. We set a goal of establishing a prevailing wage for stagehands on city and county-owned properties after I became head of IATSE Local 16. It took a few years, but we got it passed in 2005 at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Local 16 felt an immediate impact on business as employers turned to our skilled technicians to fill positions at venues throughout San Francisco including the Airport, Golden Gate Park, the Museums and the Port. This also opened the door to organizing unrepresented employees and securing long-term contracts with several of these employers.

By the way, we had a great leadership team who helped win this legislation.

Organized Labor Needs New Vision

Labor has been licking its wounds since President Reagan fired the air traffic controllers in 1981.  We’ve been in a long retreat and we need a new vision…a vision that will grow organized labor and protect working families.

Where are the new labor leaders who will provide this vision?

Next Clicks

How Communication Can Empower the Labor Movement

Why Labor Unions Ought to Develop More Leaders

When the Earth Shakes, Prevailing Wage Becomes Law

About the Author:
FX Crowley is a Public Affairs and Labor Relations Specialist, and former 15-year Business Manager of IATSE Local 16, San Francisco. A third-generation San Franciscan, FX can break down any football game from Pop Warner to the Pros and analyze it for hours. Contact to learn more ››