Digital Organizing Campaigns: Labor’s TikTok Tactics

IRI Podcast episode on Union Social Media Tactics

In recent years, we’ve spent a lot of energy thinking about the upcoming generations of employees – but while we’ve been adapting our recruiting strategies to better serve these younger workers, unions have been adapting their organizing strategies, to better appeal to them. These new union social media tactics engage employees in social media spaces and are carried out by a new generation of organizers who understand digital tactics as well as social media algorithms. Today, we talk with Daniel Schwartz, a Partner at Shipman & Goodwin. He is also the creator of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog. Here, he explains:

  • Why it's time for professionals to take digital communication seriously;
  • How digital organizing is different;
  • What makes digital campaigns more effective; and
  • The impact of communicating with employees on the platforms they visit!

If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


The New Digital Campaign

  • Mr. Schwartz wrote a blog post titled “The New Digital Campaign for Your Company’s Workers” which challenges readers to gauge their familiarity with trends on TikTok, in light of how unions are currently using social media.
    • While Gen Z is more familiar with these trends, more people are starting to get drawn in as well.
    • It’s important for professionals to take digital communication seriously, because it offers a new ways to communicate with people on their own terms, using the platforms they use on a regular basis. TikTok is just the newest platform that people are using to communicate. 
    • It is also important for companies to adapt their messaging to keep up with where and how people are now consuming their media (currently: straying from print and television, to digital platforms).


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Why Digital Organizing Is Different

  • There are a variety of messages associated with digital organizing. The conversations that employees are having online are about the issues facing the workplace: the hours, benefits, on the job training, and these topics are part of union social media tactics, but not the driving focus.
  • Digital campaigns are designed to gauge interest, so those making digital campaigns are turning to shorter video messages, like those on TikTok, to catch viewers' eyes while they are browsing.
    • Platforms like TikTok use algorithms to keep people feeding more videos with similar interests, so if someone watches a videos with union social media tactics, they are more likely to get more content like that in the future.
    • Making digital campaigns through TIkTok is very cheap and more effective because they can spread to more people, more quickly. Organizers may also boost their content with paid ads.
  • “The battle for your workplace is going on now.” 
    • Employers need to be engaged in discussions with employees, and figuring out how to get their messages across.
    • This is not necessarily anti-union messaging, but pro employer messaging that shows what the company has to offer and allows employees to feel like they are contributing to the company’s growth.

A New View of Unions

  • The most recent campaigns, at places like Starbucks, developed from the notion that the employer was taking advantage of employees through scheduling and the like, not because they weren’t offering good pay or benefits. 
  • The pandemic sped up union discussions in the workplace, and the demand for more benefits and changes in working conditions.
  • Young workers are leading the charge for digital organizing, and are working to raise awareness on a variety of issues, both in and outside of the workplace. 
    • These “digital natives” are taking more creative approaches to organizing and protesting, to get employees to act, but to get other people to act as well (using “interactive” tactics like flooding Kroger with fake job applications as an example).
    • Gen-Z for Change is a group of activists from a diverse set of backgrounds who have gotten together and are trying to raise awareness and action on a whole variety of issues including climate justice, criminal justice, educational reform and the like, not just employment issues – and their strategies vary depending on the topics.
  • Employees want to be part of something bigger – that’s a very powerful drive, and if employees feel that they are part of their employer’s growth, their message, that drive can be fed by your organization, not a union.

Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Social issues have moved into the workplace, and employers are now expected to engage in these issues that affect their employees and the world. 
  • Employees want to work for companies whose values align with theirs – and companies who do take a stand on social issues make a big impression on both current and potential employees.
  • If other employers take a stand on these issues, and your company chooses not to, it may prompt unfavorable comparisons, and your employers to ask questions like:
    • Why isn’t my employer doing this? 
    • Do they not care about us? 
    • Do they not think it's important? or even worse
    • Are they against us in some ways or against what I believe?

Communicating with Employees Today

  • “Captive audience” meetings, which were once a standard practice method employers used to talk about unions with employees, are now illegal in certain states, so new methods of communication must be engaged.
  • Today, employers need to be where their employees are, and place themselves where their employees would see their messaging, and their message goes further.
  • Employers should understand that there are still a lot of tools in their toolbox, and one of them is treating employees with respect without pandering to them. By sending clear, transparent communication to all employees and encouraging employee participation.
    • Digital communication gives you a way to communicate cheaply and easily, via landing pages, social media, targeting both new hires and current employees with the good new about the company.
    • Simply listening to employees – online or in real life, soliciting their suggestions, encouraging their participation and the development of an ownership stake in the company is the key.
  • Being able to communicate the company’s message is everyone’s job, and the only way companies can be successful is by having everyone on the same page.

Communicating and the Law

  • There are some legal considerations that come into play when talking about a company’s online communication and union social media tactics from employees. 
  • The most important law that companies need to be aware of is that it is unlawful for an employer to restrain or coerce employees from exercising their rights.
    • To be covered legally, it is best to avoid spying or making false promises, and to consult with legal counsel if union organizing comes up within the company before taking any action.
  • There are many resources online that talk about employment law and communication law, like Mr. Schwartz’s blog which specifically handles Connecticut Employment Law.

Daniel Schwartz Background

  • J.D., Law from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law
  • BA in Diplomatic History, Economics from the University of Pennsylvania
  • Served as Counsel for Day, Berry & Howard LLP, and as Member for Epstein Becker & Green and Pullman & Comley LLC
  • Mr. Schwartz currently serves as Partner with Shipman & Goodwin LLP
  • He is also the creator of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog.



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