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Carpenters Union using email and txt-ing to mobilize members

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The Business Journal reports that the carpenters union for Seattle and Portland are using text-messaging and email to mobilize their folks before some big contract negotiations.

The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters is text-messaging and e-mailing to gather input from and communicate to members. It has also recruited about 550 campaign captains to connect with peers at job sites.

One early test of the effort will come in April, when 5,000-8,000 people are expected to show up at a rally in Tacoma, and several thousand more at one in Portland.

"That's going to send a large message to the Pacific Northwest region and to those sitting down at the negotiating table," said Richard Heyn, one of the campaign captains.

Even Doug Peterson, director of labor relations with employer group Associated General Contractors of Washington, agreed that a rally of that size would be unusual. The AGC and other contractors were invited to attend.

"I've never seen it this big," he said. "As far as I know, it's a unique effort on the part of the carpenters."

The union's ultimate goal: Rally membership and demonstrate unity before going into new contract discussions, and build a framework for future efforts.

Why text messaging? Because they're on the job site - where cell phones are king, not laptops.

With cell phones now as ubiquitous as hammers on carpenters' tool belts, the union has used text messaging to bring campaign captains together for meetings. As negotiations progress, the union might use text-messaging to send out updates, ask for input on specific contract proposals, and notify members about job-site rallies.

And of course, a key strategic goal is reaching younger members - who haven't experienced this before:

"It will be about the money when it comes down to the contract," he said, "but we have to address the fundamentals."

That's particularly true for the younger members, who don't feel the same kinds of bonds to the union that their parents and grandparents did, Franklin said.

"In the carpenter's union, and in the building trades in general, young members are a minority," Franklin said.

About two-thirds of the Northwest Carpenters' members are 45 and older. Nationally, the average age of construction workers is in the mid-50s, according to a survey last year by Chicago-based outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

The union has focused on bringing in new members through apprenticeship programs, with about 200 apprentices joining last year.