How to … recruit new members

Like any union, UNISON is only as strong and effective as our members acting together – the more of us there are, the better we are

As every activist knows, increasing the size of the union and, with it, workplace density, by recruiting more members is crucial to making UNISON a more effective union.

But it’s one thing to know that – how do you actually go about it? Where on earth do you start? What if your workplace isn’t organised? Or the employer doesn’t recognise unions? And how do you deal with the most common rejections?

Here are a few tips to help point you in the right direction and ensure that you feel confident enough to hit the recruitment trail.

Spotting everyday recruitment opportunities

How do you identify daily situations where you can strike up conversations with potential new members? There are some simple steps to consider.

  • Think about the journey you make each day to and from work, including the places you walk or travel to and the staff you meet on the way.
  • Using an average day, make a list of where you go, how many people you meet and who they are.
  • Go through your list and highlight any opportunities you have to talk to staff about the union.

For example, you may walk through a reception area but not know whether the people who work there are union members, or you may go to the staff restaurant and meet people informally during breaks.

  • Think about how you can strike up conversations with colleagues about joining the union that doesn’t take them away from their daily routine.
  • For colleagues who don’t leave their desks often, consider how you can communicate with them using email or the phone instead.

Once your list is complete, make a point of chatting informally to colleagues about union activities and the benefits of joining. Try and make it part of your everyday routine.


What if the union isn’t recognised?

Recruiting in workplaces where the union isn’t recognised can be challenging for reps – especially if the employer is active hostile towards the union.

But often, it’s these environments where people face unreasonable working conditions and most need union support.

Recruitment stands and “walk-talks” are a no-no. In these  workplaces, reps need to find new and creative ways to reach out to potential new members. So again, here are six ideas to get you started.

  • Workplace mapping – gather a group of activists together, go through a list of all the workers, especially non-members, in one area.

Share what workers’ views on the union are, or are likely to be, colour code each worker using the traffic light system (see below) and delegate one or more of the activists to discreetly approach each worker.

  • Traffic lighting – a way of colour-coding workers depending on attitude to the union: green for those who are already members and ‘green plus’ for activists; blue for potential members and turquoise for members being processed; purple for workers who haven’t yet approached; orange for those who are not interested in joining; for those who are hostile to the union and may be a threat, possibly leaking information to management.



This is a useful way of talking about a person’s union view without them realising. For example, being able to say ‘they’re red’ could stop sensitive or important information being leaked.

Traffic lighting can also make co-ordination easier and recruitment more effective. For example, two activists could agree to approach the same member, one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday, as if by coincidence, and generate a buzz around joining up.

Welcome packs – customise your welcome packs to the workplace and give them out in plain white envelopes. This will make them easy to distribute and be safe for our members.

Company functions – many workplaces hold company dinners or other staff events. If members are comfortable with the idea – and with caution – union officials and lay activists can show up at the end of a function so that workplace activists can bring non-members over for a chat.

Create a dedicated website page – non-members searching online for a union are likely to search for the name of their employer and ‘union’.

Set up a dedicated page on your branch website, or even as a separate website, You can use something like WordPress, which is simple and free to use. On the webpage, link to the main UNISON website, including the new online joining page at, and include information on how people can contact UNISON reps at the workplace.

Farewell missions – if you have any activists who are about to leave the workplace, you could them to do something which helps raise awareness of the union or helps the union gain more ground, but which might be too risky for activists who are staying.

This could be something like:

Approaching a worker who may be anti-union to see if they are interested in joining;

  • being the first signature on a petition;
  • distributing leaflets or putting up posters;
  • being announced as a workplace rep for their last few months of employment.

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