Local Associations Increasingly Turn to Text Messages to Communicate with Members

In the spring of 2010, the members of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association (GEHREA) in Atlantic County were facing a prolonged and acrimonious bargaining crisis. With three campuses in three different towns, the logistics of coordinating actions and information among 430 members of their all-inclusive local association, which represents teachers, custodians, secretaries, buildings and grounds staff, and paraprofessionals, were daunting.

GEHREA President Beau Glenn was the vice-president and a member of the negotiating team during the crisis. He credits the action team and then-president Madeline Avery with recognizing the new to embrace technology in order to achieve their goals.

“We needed a better way to connect with people,” Glenn said. “When we started using text messaging, we saw the impact right away.”

Each of the members of the action team created a text message group that enabled them to quickly pass succinct bits of information.

“We got a lot of positive feedback from members about using text messaging,” said Glenn. “It was obvious just from the increased participation we saw in the actions we called that the technology was not only helping us keep members informed but it was also helping to motivate them to take part. We were careful not to overuse the technology and I think that helped people understand that we wouldn’t take up their time unless it was really important.”

In addition, text messaging enabled the association to communicate and mobilize rapidly.

“While we wanted to give our members advance notice about upcoming actions, we had to balance this need to communicate with the necessity of keeping actions quiet until we implemented them. By using text messaging, we were able to call actions very quickly without giving the administration too much time to prepare a response.”

The association had always used multiple methods of communicating with members but there were barriers that limited the effectiveness of each. The school email system – even when used to encourage members to check a home email address – couldn’t reach all of the association’s members because the buildings and grounds staff are not given school email accounts.

“Text messaging helped us compensate for these communications issues because even those members who didn’t have a cell phone were near people who did. We encouraged members to talk about the information and actions and to encourage others to participate. We used word of mouth to pick up where the technology left off.”

GEHREA area representatives are not paid and were not reimbursed for text messages although the association honors them and their hard work with a thank-you event every year.

“No one expressed any discomfort with using their personal cell phones to send these text messages,” Glenn said. “I think it was a situation of need and people were willing to use their private resources for the good of the group. That’s what being a good association member is about.”

The Township of Franklin Education Association (TFEA) also was facing a serious bargaining crisis two years ago when the association first turned to text messaging.

The TFEA, which represents 120 teachers in the Township of Franklin, Gloucester County, had been working without a new contract and had seen an influx in newer, younger members. Watching the way these members – and many veteran members – were increasingly using text messaging to communicate, TFEA President John Stagliano began using texts to inform members about association issues.

Stagliano used Sprint, his personal cell phone provider, to set up a database of members’ cell phone numbers. He manages the text messages via Sprint’s website and he has an unlimited text messaging plan.

“With the help our Field Representative, Al Beaver, we put out a survey asking people how they would like the association to communicate with them,” Stagliano said. “It took about three weeks to get the responses from the membership and we found that more than half wanted us to use text messaging.”

The TFEA continues to communicate through other resources: meetings, association representatives, fliers in mailboxes, and non-school email addresses.

“We needed a better way to communicate with the membership during the bargaining crisis,” Stagliano said. “That was the motivation to implement text messaging two years ago. Now, as we enter the final year of our contract, we’re going to be able to communicate faster and more efficiently with our members using this additional resource.”

Stagliano offers this advice for leaders who are reluctant to embrace text messaging as a communications tool: “Veteran leaders need to understand that technology is an important part of how our new members communicate. We’re dealing with a whole new generation of members and we need to reach them in the way that they best receive information.”