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Submitted by martin on Wed, 10/03/2010 - 06:55

Bob Carnegie has alerted me to a recent news report which, he says, represents a logical extrapolation from Crosby's approach. If the core of the answer on organising is to employ a corps of organisers, recruited (mostly) from outside the union, without elections, and specifically required not to develop any long-term relation with any group of members of the union, then why not "outsource" the whole thing?

The Australian, March 10, 2010

"Unions employ ultimate in outsourcing

UNIONS are paying a private company to recruit thousands of members in workplaces, including schools, under a contentious scheme criticised by some leading officials as outsourcing core union business to the private sector.

Work Partners, run by former ALP activist Stuart McGill, has a workforce of 90 employed on common law contracts who have been recruiting new members on behalf of unions, including the Victorian branches of the Australian Education Union and the Community and Public Sector Union.

The AEU's Victorian secretary, Brian Henderson, revealed yesterday his union pays $500 for each new member recruited by Work Partners. The company had brought in 7000 new members from schools, TAFE colleges and early childhood centres over the past two years.

Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union national president Ed Husic said his union had paid the company to recruit members in Telstra and Australia Post.

Some union officials yesterday criticised the unions for "contracting out" a traditional core union service.

By paying a fee per member, unions are effectively forgoing the first year in union dues and hoping the new member stays longer than 12 months. Use of the company has caused disputes among unions where they are competing for new members. The issue is on the agenda for a meeting of ACTU affiliates on Friday.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said he was opposed to the use of Work Partners. "We don't use them. We are not going to use them as we don't think you can outsource core union work," he said.

Other officials said the recruitment strategy was a "bad look" and a questionable way of addressing declining union membership.

Mr McGill, a former staffer with NSW Labor senator Doug Cameron, attracted controversy briefly in 2008 when he recruited members to ALP branches in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

He said yesterday Work Partners was a professional services and marketing firm that employed recruiters on behalf of unions to enter workplaces and sell the benefits of unionism to employees.

While Mr Henderson said the AEU paid $500 for each new member, Mr McGill and other union officials said their fee arrangement was commercially confidential.

Mr McGill said his full-time workforce had grown to about 90 and staff were employed on letters of agreement - common law contracts - that paid over the award. He said he would consider reaching a collective agreement with his staff.

Under the school recruitment scheme, individual school principals are approached to allow recruiters to speak one on one to non-unionists.

While Mr McGill said the recruiters talk up how unions can offer job protection and pay rises, union critics said the recruiters over-emphasised "gimmick" programs like Union Shopper, which offers discounts on goods and accommodation.

Mr Henderson, whose branch membership has grown by 20 per cent to 35,000, denied the AEU had outsourced recruitment, saying the use of Work Partners was in addition to the union's own recruiters. "Our membership is growing . . . at a spectacular rate," he said. "Why would we stop doing that given what the ACTU wants is faster growing union membership?'

Mr Husic said Work Partners delivered a consistent focus on recruitment in contrast to full-time union employees, who had sometimes "dropped the ball " on recruitment. "This is a model that we are prepared to embrace, and it is something new."

Mr Husic said he accepted there had been "teething problems" in workplaces where unions contested coverage. "If the ACTU wants to broker protocols, we'd welcome it," he said.
Karen Batt, the CPSU's Victorian secretary, said the use of Work Partners supplemented the union's recruitment strategy and was a "breath of fresh air".

Ms Batt said unions used external professionals to provide a range of other services, including legal and communications, and asked "what is sacrosanct about recruitment?".
ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons said the union body did not have a relationship with Work Partners, and there had been mixed reports about its success".

Is this "outsourcing" just a peculiarity of old-fashioned, right-wing, "servicing-model" unions who haven't caught up with the "organising model"?

No. The AEU Victoria is usually considered "left"; so is the CEPU; so is the union which Doug Cameron led before going into politics, the AMWU. The AWU, the union criticising the "outsourcing", has long been the bulwark of the old right in the Australian trade-union movement (and I suspect its criticism is more to do with chagrin about contested coverage than about principle).

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