December 1, 2010

CHICAGO (Dec. 1)—A professional survey of Illinois UTU members who get their union alerts by e-mail shows that the Illinois Legislative Board’s on-line Rapid Response feature was highly effective in the 2010 Get Out the Vote effort.

And it could be saving the union substantial amounts of money compared with old-fashioned direct-mail campaigns, the survey said.

The on-line survey of 68 members of the Rapid Response program, conducted by Minneapolis-based political polling consultant DFM Group, showed that almost 70 per cent of members surveyed could remember receiving two distinct e-mails reminding them to vote. Another 18 per cent remembered receiving at least one of the e-mails.

And 65 per cent of respondents said that they opened the attachment and read the PDF card urging them to use early voting or absentee voting.

DFM Group President Dean Mitchell said the high percentage of members who remembered getting the e-mails and opening the attachment suggests that e-mail needs to play an increasing role in communicating the union’s Get Out the Vote message and its candidate endorsements.

“The reason I’m excited is that nine out of ten members who use e-mail remembered at least one of the messages,” he said. “That means there is no negativity associated with using e-mail to reach members. It works. We need to expand our data base of member e-mail addresses and increase the amount of Rapid Response usage as we move toward the 2012 elections.”

Mitchell said the Rapid Response alerts should “supplement, rather than supplant,” the direct mail outreach the Illinois Legislative Board historically has used to get members to vote.

“When we asked members how they would like to be informed in the run-up to the 2012 elections, 31 per cent said they preferred e-mail alerts, 16 per cent said they liked regular mail, and 42 per cent said they wanted both,” Mitchell said.

But Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy said that as the younger generation of railroaders, who tend to be more tech-reliant and computer-savvy, starts to outnumber and replace retiring members, the proportion who prefer e-mail communication is likely to rise. Guy said he welcomes that transition because it will enable the union to save substantial amounts of money.

“The cost of an e-mail outreach is basically zero,” Guy said. “A direct-mail campaign is expensive—16 cents in postage for each item mailed plus nearly the same amount for paper, envelopes, printing and handling. So a mailing to our roughly 10,000 active and retired members can cost the board around $3,000.

“As responsible stewards of the members’ dues the Board must seek more cost-effective ways to get its messages out to the members, and the DFM survey suggests that e-mail needs to be a more important part of our work going forward.”

But Guy said before that could happen the Board will have to find a better way to “recruit” members to join the Rapid Response family.

“Only about 10-20 per cent of our members have shared their e-mail addresses with the board so far,” he said. “But more than 80 per cent of all Americans have computers in their homes, and our membership probably fits that profile, so we have lots and lots of member e-mail addresses we still have to collect.”

Guy said the Board expects to be working more closely with local chairmen and legislative reps in an effort to gather more member e-mail addresses.

“The Rapid Response program should be discussed at every local meeting and frequently among the members while they’re interacting on the property,” Guy said. “Local officers should encourage other members to sign up.”

Guy pointed out that the Board uses members’ e-mail sparingly—and carefully—to protect privacy.

“We use e-mail for one purpose only—to provide valuable member-to-member communication about what the Board is doing and how our members can help,” he said

“We do not share this information with anyone. It’s strictly an internal tool used to brief members about legislative developments that affect their health, economic welfare and work environment.”

Guy called sharing e-mail addresses with the UTU “the smart thing to do.”

“The greater the number of active and retired members we can reach via e-mail, the more effectively we can mobilize for legislative action and the more money we can save on postage and printing,” he said.

Guy said the Rapid Response program is the easiest way for our members to stay informed about what the Illinois Legislative Board is doing.

“It keeps you in the loop and also provides opportunities for feedback,” he said. “The Board learned a lot about the membership from the recent survey, and the ‘Action Alerts’, which have been a staple of the program for a generation,” keep the members informed about the Board’s thinking.

“I urge every member of the Rapid Response program to recruit a fellow UTU member to join,” Guy said. “It’s easy. Just suggest that a brother or sister visit and scroll down the left side to click on Rapid Response Registration. The only information required is the member’s name, e-mail address and ZIP code. That’s it!