Unions? Aren't they for factory workers? Well, actually no. Some say they've never been more revelant than today for people in public relations.
By Chris Morley
In my years in the regional media, one of the most common career paths is from mainstream newspapers or broadcasting to PR.
When this happens, those who were members of the NUJ often think the union will not be able to represent them in their new work or is not appropriate in some way as they no longer regard themselves as a journalist. This then leads them to resign from the union.
However, the real situation is quite a bit different. The NUJ does represent PR professionals (this is part of its constitution) and we welcome them into membership. In fact we have something like 2,000 members in this sector.
The experience here in the NUJ’s Manchester office (which serves the North and Midlands) is that, in reality, those individuals working in PR are probably among those most likely to call on our services for advice and support. This can be over a variety of issues, but often it is about contracts or working hours, bullying or stress.
We can also be called on to represent if things go wrong either at a disciplinary or grievance as every individual has a legal right to have a trade union official accompany them in such processes. Only in the week before Christmas did I successfully represent a member who does PR for a football club and as a result uncovered horrendous and unhealthy working hours which are now the subject of a grievance. When there is a potential redundancy we can support the member through the consultation process and fight to win a better deal for the member either by eliminating the need for the dismissal, coming to a deal to spare the worst consequences of a redundancy or improving the terms of exit.
Straight after New Year I represented a PR member in the Midlands and the presence of the union has made the employer offer substantially increased terms to leave (a year’s pay, but we are not finished negotiating yet!). Such cases and outcomes are not that unusual. The reason you don’t hear of these successes is very often that the deals are subject to gagging clauses in compromise agreements tying up the deal or that the members themselves want to just draw a line under things and get on quietly as is their right.
We have a good record for winning compensation in difficult cases which can go all the way to tribunal. In one case handled by this office, we achieved an £80k victory for a decently paid PR professional and then fought off the attempt by the company to appeal against the award. But if the union takes the case, there is no cost to the member and all the compensation where it is won goes to them.
I hope gives encouragement to any PR worker – staff or freelance - that NUJ membership can and should be maintained when you switch to PR or indeed if you are already in PR but never been a member of the NUJ then it is time to join.
But I would also mention that there are professional issues, such as ethics, where the union can provide expertise if required. You may come up against circumstances with which you are unfamiliar and the union can provide support either discreetly in the background through advice, or even intervene directly if the member agrees that that is what’s needed.
It really depends on what you want out of the union. We can help with so many things and the Manchester office can guide you over what might be possible in any given situation. You only have to ask! However, experience tells us that PR can be quite isolating and it is good to be able to seek independent advice when you most need it and be part of network that not only includes people in PR but also the very people you are seeking to influence: journalists.
Union membership for PRs costs just £17.09 a month, but can be less for low earners.
If you read this and want to chat it through call my office on 0161 237 5020, give me a call on my mobile 07703 321672 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
If you want to sign straight up for membership you can download the application form here.
Chris Morley is Northern & Midlands Organiser for the National Union of Journalists.