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Union Advocacy Tips for everyone (You can do this!) No one can do everything everywhere, but everyone should do something somewhere! The commitment required to be an effective union advocate can be as short as a 1 minute phone call or as long as arranging a visit to an elected official. Here are some tips for being an effective union advocate, organized from most effective to least effective. (This Advocacy Tips page is linked from the Legislative page that resides in the Library Tab. A link back to Legislation area is at bottom of the page)

Union Advocacy Tips for everyone (You can do this!)

No one can do everything everywhere, but everyone should do something somewhere!

The commitment required to be an effective union advocate can be as short as a 1 minute phone call or as long as arranging a visit to an elected official. Here are some tips for being an effective union advocate, organized from most effective to least effective.

After a member office visit, the writing of letters or making telephone calls are by far the most effective means of advocacy. Postcards, petitions, and emails (provided they include your name and address) may have some impact, but considerably less. Online petitions or petitions forwarded by email are almost always outdated and/or wrong and should be avoided. (These can be good for raising awareness, but may be inaccurate and are typically not effective advocacy.)

Remember to identify yourself (your title and who you represent) when communicating with members of Congress or their staff. Also, try to make yourself, and your issue, memorable. You´re more than likely not the only person or group that is advocating with your member.

1) Visiting Members of Congress

A face-to-face visit with an elected official, or their staff, is the most influential form of advocacy. Letter, and phone calls can be much easier ignored, but face to face is personal. This method can be time-consuming, but it can also be fun, interesting, and very rewarding. Elected officials, particularly on the federal level, have very demanding schedules. So don't be disappointed if you have to meet with a staff person - chances are good that they know more about the issue than the member anyway! Group visits are particularly effective, especially when different organizations or constituencies are represented. If you're determined to meet with your member in person, a group visit increases your chances.

Getting an Appointment
Most, but not all, Congressional Offices in Washington require a written appointment request. Consider the template (Attachment 1 ­ Appointment Request) as a guide. For visits with the Washington Office, requests should be faxed (mail may be delayed weeks for screening). For local office visits, mailing might work but faxing is preferable. For more information on your Members of Congress, including office locations and contact information (and a zip code lookup if you're not sure who they are), go to

Preparing for the Visit
Do your Homework! You should plan to discuss only one or two issues. Assume that you will have about 15 minutes. Gather facts about the issue(s) you're talking about and make a handout that concisely outlines your issue (keep it to one page if possible). You can leave this with whomever you see (the member or staff). See Attachment 3 for a template. Use this sheet to practice talking about the issue, preferably with someone that is not familiar with it. This will help to sharpen your presentation and will help to make sure that you communicate the basic idea of the issue effectively. Remember, the Congress person or their staff doesn´t necessarily know the issue ... you do.

The Appointment
Dress neatly and conservatively. Arrive on time. Be polite. Relax.

Expect some introductions and pleasantries: who you are, where you're from, etc. Try to compliment something the legislator has done recently. After a minute or two, make your statement about the issue that concerns you. Be cautious that you don't "small talk" through your whole appointment.

Be prepared for questions and the give-and-take of the visit.

If the Member or staffer asks you for information that you do not have or know, it´s ok to say so. Write down the question and re-state it to them to clarify what they are asking and state that you will get the information and when/ how you will respond (a few days, week, etc. via email, phone, etc). Then follow through. Never lie or make things up.

A member or staffer may disagree strongly with your assumptions and with the goals you advocate. That's OK. Don't be over-argumentative. Keep the conversation positive. Don´t try too hard to change their mind. Stay on the subject and move on. They may not agree with you today, but over time may see the merits of your issue.

Concluding the visit
Contacting your elected officials is part of building relationships with them. Members of Congress and their staffers are real human beings with normal needs and faults. You will be more effective in the future if both you and your member see your appointment as the first in a series of contacts.

Within a few days of your visit, it is wise to follow up with the member or staffer regarding the visit. This can be done via letter or fax. Remember to thank them for their time, re-state what you discussed, and your proposed actions. See Attachment 2 ­ Follow up letter template.

2) Letters

Writing letters in your own words is an efficient and effective way to influence Members of Congress. Since congressional offices receive only a handful of letters on most issues, each carries power. Please keep in mind that due to screening, many letters do not reach Congressional offices for 3-5 weeks. If you´re writing about an urgent issue, fax your letter.

Think about your letter as having distinct paragraphs, or parts (similar to the Issue paper in Attachment 3). The opening part should clearly state the issue, your position and why you hold it. It should also give more information on the bill/action in question and evidence supporting your position. The second part should urge the Member of Congress to take specific action (i.e. support/don´t support a particular bill or amendment; co-sponsor a bill; etc.). The third part should be a brief summary and provide final encouragement. When possible, try to thank your Member for some action they've taken in the past.

Letter-Writing Tips
One-page letters are ideal. Say what you need to say, but be as brief as possible.

Keep letters to one issue. A letter with a laundry list of issues has less impact than a letter on one topic.

Make it legible and neat. Legible handwritten letters and well-typed letters are both effective.

When possible, include a specific bill number.

Do not write nasty or insulting letters. It is not an effective means of persuasion.

3) Telephone Calls

Although not as nearly as effective as visit or letters, telephone calls are very important ­ especially when the respective legislation is being debated or voted upon. A constituent will rarely get through to a member of Congress on the telephone, but talking to or leaving a message for the relevant staff person definitely has an impact. Remember to identify yourself as an AFGE member or leader.

Your members phone number(s) can be found at: When you've reached the office, you can either (1) name the issue you're interested in and ask to speak to the staff person who works on the issue; or (2) make your statement to the person who has answered the phone. The former is probably more effective; the latter more efficient. It is very helpful to have an issue paper in front of you when you call. If you get a "live" person, ask them if you may fax the issue paper to them.

4) Petitions

Petitions, though relatively easy to circulate, are not a highly effective means of persuasion unless they will be delivered in person to an elected official. It is precisely because they are easy to gather that they are not as compelling as, say, a few personal letters. A petition is better than nothing, but taking the extra time and effort to organize a visit or write a letter is considerably better.

5) Postcards

Postcards have some influence, but they are not nearly as effective as letters. A postcard that you write yourself is much more effective than a preprinted postcard. However, if your choice is between writing a postcard and doing nothing-- write the postcard.

6) Emails

Although few if any emails actually reach the Members themselves, most are seen or addressed by the staff in some way. How emails are handled varies widely from office to office ­ some will make sure you get a personal reply, some will send an automatic reply and nothing else.

Keep in mind that the advocacy stated above is much more effective than an email. If you are going to email­which is certainly better than nothing­be sure to include your home mailing address in your message! Not only are you more likely to get a response, but your viewpoint may carry more weight.

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