Craig McKenzie says he “didn’t think too much of it” when he took over the school’s PA to announce a chapter meeting was set to start.
McKenzie, who is the union rep at John Therry Catholic College in Rosemeadow, near Campbelltown, also ran two meetings on the same day – at recess and lunchtime – and accepted proxies, to ensure as many members as possible could attend and vote.
“Just prior to the meeting kicking off at the start of recess I jump on the PA and give everyone that last friendly reminder,” McKenzie said.
This simple strategy works. On the day of his PA announcement in March, 61 IEU members had their say, voting unanimously to move forward on enterprise agreement negotiations.
“It was overall our biggest turnout in my history of John Therry chapter meetings, with most people having their say at recess where we were lucky to have [organiser] Dave Towson give us an update on current issues and their background,” said McKenzie, who has been the chapter rep since 2012.
Turns out the PA is a good recruitment tool: three new support staff members signed up on the day and two more teachers joined during the week. Twenty-two new members have joined in just two years, taking union membership at the school to 78 per cent of the teaching staff and 62 per cent of support staff.
As the coronavirus pandemic necessitates a new learning environment, teachers are busier than ever, so PA announcements ensure staff get timely reminders of union meetings. They also normalise union membership and help educate the next generation. “There are always a few students who pick up on these announcements,” said McKenzie, who teaches business studies to Year 11, is closely involved with the school’s Aboriginal cohort, and also works intensively with students experiencing learning difficulties.
Having been a union member his entire teaching career, McKenzie has a few tips for budding union reps. “I find probably the most effective thing is conversations – kicking off conversations with other members and trying to engage non members,” he said. He encourages the younger members to talk to their colleagues and invite them to get involved. He also favours “quality over quantity”, finding fewer chapter meetings mean greater attendance as members know that what is up for discussion really matters.
McKenzie is also the rep who once awarded two 30-year badges and bottles of wine to members at a big chapter meeting, followed by a 30-hour badge and can of beer to the newest member as a gesture of welcome. “A little bit of humour never goes astray,” he said. Nor does announcing union meetings over the PA.