Messaging Mobilizes Membership for SEIU Local 1021

About SEIU Local 1021

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 represents more than 54,000 employees in local governments, non-profit agencies, healthcare programs and schools throughout Northern California. The members of this diverse organization work to make cities, schools, counties and special districts safe and healthy places to live. Union members nurse the sick, educate children, clean schools, and care for senior citizens and people with developmental disabilities.


It is vital that the union can reach its staff and members quickly, especially during campaigns when it needs them to appear at a rally or meeting. The union tried a basic texting application, but found it inflexible and not very effective. SEIU 1021 needed a full-featured solution to complement its member and staff communications program.


AT&T Messaging ToolkitTM allows SEIU 1021 to reach its members quickly across multiple channels. The solution helps keep them up to date on developing situations and enables officials to quickly mobilize support when the need arises.

Working for a Just and Humane Society

For almost a century the Service Employees International Union has focused on the dignity and worth of workers and the value of the services they provide. SEIU fights to improve the lives of its two million members and, in the process, works for a more just and humane society.

Its members in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico make up the nation’s largest healthcare union and the largest property services union, with members in the building cleaning and security industries. SEIU is also the second largest public services union, representing local and state government workers, public school employees and bus drivers.

The powerful SEIU Local 1021 serves members who work in Northern California. Boyan Biandov, Local 1021’s IT Director, is impressed with the range of fields in which union members work. “In San Francisco we have the registered nurses along with a huge range of departments from janitorial to parks, and it’s just the same for the other counties in the Bay area,” he said. “We negotiate contracts for our members, fighting for better wages, safety, better working conditions and healthcare benefits. This includes leading recent campaigns to increase the minimum wage and to unionize fast food workers.”

Connecting with Members

With 11 regional offices and members who work throughout 12 Northern California counties, the union faces some communications challenges. Local 1021 uses traditional methods to reach members, the local’s New Media Coordinator Randy Lyman said. “The website is available 24/7 and we put out the NewsWire, a weekly online newsletter,” he said. The union also sends mass mailings of important information to reach members who don’t have Internet access.

In recent years 1021 has increasingly made use of social media; members can now follow the local on Facebook and Twitter, connect via LinkedIn, view photos on Flickr and watch the SEIU channel on YouTube. “Technology is absolutely critical in reaching our members,” Biandov said. “Without technology we wouldn’t be nearly as effective as we are.”

The union often needs to reach its staff quickly, which can be difficult because many spend large amounts of time in the field. “Nobody sits at the office eight hours a day any longer,” he said. “We need to be able to reach our staff wherever they are working.”

A few years ago the union provided smartphones so staff could conduct work when they’re out of the office. “It was important for them to have email in their pocket,” Biandov said. It soon it became clear that even email wasn’t fast enough for some communications. “A lot of times we put together events like rallies on fairly short notice,” Lyman said. “Sometimes a board of supervisors announces when they will take a vote and we need to rally members quickly.”

The union made a basic text messaging application available to staff, which they immediately embraced. “We saw text messaging as a good complement to the other channels the union used to connect with members and staff. With it we can run more targeted campaigns and there’s a real immediacy,” Lyman said. “It’s much more suitable than email when you need immediate responses.”

As useful as the text messages could be, the local’s communications staff soon found that their first solution didn’t provide many options. Officials began searching for a full-featured messaging application that would give staff in the field access to the tools they needed to do their jobs well.

A Part of the Communications Mix

SEIU 1021 chose AT&T Messaging Toolkit to assist in staff and member communications. The multi-channel messaging platform offers rich features like photo and video messaging, mobile voting, appointment reminders and online signup forms. Text messages now augment the other channels the union uses to reach members. “It isn’t a replacement for anything; it’s a supplement,” Lyman said. “Part of the key to a good communications program is working out a mix of media.

“We use the monthly magazine and our weekly e-newsletter, but within 24 hours of an event we use AT&T Messaging Toolkit as the last minute reminder to get people out,” Lyman added. “Text messaging does help get more people out to events. It lets us keep the message in front of them in a variety of non-invasive ways.”

Union staff have used texting very effectively during membership campaigns or contract negotiations, but they’re careful not to overwhelm members with messages. “We send an average of four texts each month,” Lyman said. “When things are really starting to heat up we’re able to accelerate, which our people appreciate because they’re kept abreast of breaking developments.”

Increased Turnout at Union Events

AT&T Messaging Toolkit makes it easy for 1021 to set for the union to establish individual keywords for each campaign. Members elect to receive only those updates in which they’re interested and can easily opt in by texting a unique keyword to the union’s short code. “We don’t automatically upload a list of our members’ cell phone numbers into the messaging platform,” Lyman said. “We send out flyers encouraging people to opt in on their phones.”

The local lets members who are less tech-savvy fill out sign-up sheets for the communications staff to add them to the distribution list. “I have gone around in meetings teaching people how to do it so that they could teach others and help those new to the technology work through the process,” Lyman said. “When people see that with a simple sign-up they can get breaking information on their phones it’s a pretty easy sell,” he said. “And I’ve noticed across all our campaigns that the number of people who sign up is directly proportional to the effort that we put in getting the text messaging information out into the field.”

Officials see several important benefits. “Keeping people informed provides a service for them,” Lyman said. “Some members have said they’re getting more for their dues, and this gives them confidence in their union.” There’s also increased turnout at union events, which Lyman sees as evidence of the effectiveness of the messaging program.

Control from the Field

The union communications staff are the only ones authorized to send text messages to members. “Texts are official union publications as far as I’m concerned,” Lyman said, “so it’s just accepted that anyone who wants to send a text goes through us.”

Lyman uses a Web interface to set up keywords and distribution lists for campaigns. “It’s straightforward and easy to use,” he said. He then gives the information to communications staff. “I’ve activated their cell phones so they don’t have to rely on me. I just provide them the name of the list that they’re sending to and they’re able to send campaign text messages from their phones,” he said. “They can take total control of it in the field, type in the list name and message, hit send and it’s done.”

Despite the fact that text messaging has been around for a while, Lyman says it’s still a relatively new tool for communications campaigns and other commercial uses. “AT&T Messaging Toolkit provides a lot of features and capabilities,” he said, “and we’re still figuring out all the things that we can actually do with them.”

The union staff looks forward to using the Text-to-Screen feature to integrate communications between people at an event and those participating via the Web. “During live town hall meetings we can project a screen up for the crowd and embed it on a Web page,” Lyman said. “Then Web viewers and live audience members can send text messages that will scroll down the screen so they can interact with the event.”

He also likes being able to tie emails together with text messages; if the emails aren’t opened a text or instant message is sent automatically. “We hope to explore these additional features in the coming year,” he said.

“Reachability and a Great Bang for Our Buck”

IT Director Biandov has watched the progression of communications solutions over his years in the industry. “I can see the trends of email becoming what snail mail has already become – almost nobody reads it,” he said. “Texting is now the only way to actually get through to someone, so there is no option for us to be without text messaging.”

He believes the solution has been a good investment for SEIU. “AT&T Messaging Toolkit gives us reachability and a great bang for our buck,” he said. It was an easy choice for SEIU Local 1021, which is a longtime AT&T customer. AT&T data networks running over fiber support the union’s work throughout Northern California and enable collaboration with other SEIU locals across the U.S. and Canada.

The union also uses AT&T to provide wireless coverage and Internet access for staff smartphones and tablets. Biandov called the AT&T engineers and account representatives “excellent and very talented.”

Ahead of the Curve

Local 1021 has earned a reputation for using new media effectively. “We’re pretty well known for being ahead of the curve when it comes to technology,” Lyman said. “I belong to a couple of labor communications list-serves, and often hear from people looking for a messaging platform. I’ve always recommended AT&T Messaging Toolkit.”

But being a technology leader doesn’t necessarily mean the local has reached optimal balance, Lyman said. In the coming year he and Biandov expect to enhance the management of member records and look to offer members easier access to union resources.

“There are all kinds of things we can do to increase the level of reliance and implementation of good technologies,” he said. “And we expect that AT&T will play a major role.” The fact that AT&T has more full-time bargained-for jobs than any other company in America and is the only major U.S. wireless workforce to be union-represented is important to SEIU 1021. It has been a key aspect to this successful relationship.

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