On today's episode I will be speaking with Steve Jones, the founder and CEO of LinkedUnion, an app based organizing tool that puts the power of unions in the hands of its members.
We’ll open our conversation as Steve explains the shortcomings many unions have historically faced in mobilizing their ranks, and the moment of betrayal by a political candidate that was the catalyst for him to create LinkedUnion.
Next, we’ll discuss the roll technology plays in helping organized labor unions inform, engage, and mobilize their members, and why the utilization and embrace of tech is so important to their survival and prosperity.
Later, Steve will share some of the challenges he and his team overcame in developing their proprietary software, and why he feels staying nimble and responsive to their customers’ needs allows them to stand apart, in a highly competitive marketplace.
We’ll then dig into a few features of the LinkedUnion app, such as searching for work, submitting apprenticeship hours, paying union dues, and receiving time sensitive calls to action.
And we’ll end our conversation by understanding how LinkedUnion uses robust, state of the art security to protect its user’s personal data.
The Show Notes
Grit Nation Webpage
Follow Grit Nation on Twitter
Email comments or suggestions to:
Grit Nation is a proud member of the Labor Radio / Podcast Network
Welcome to the Grit Nation Podcast. I'm Joe Cadwell. Today I'll be speaking with Steve Jones, the founder and CEO of LinkUnion, an app based organizing tool that puts the power of unions in the hands of its members. will open our conversation to Steve explains the shortcomings many unions have historically faced in mobilizing their ranks, and the moment of betrayal by a political candidate that was a catalyst for him to create and LinkedUnion. Next, we'll discuss the role technology plays in helping organize labor unions and form engage and mobilize their members, and why the utilization and embrace of technology is so important to their survival and prosperity. Later, Steve will share some of the challenges he and his team overcame and developing their proprietary software, and why you feel staying nimble and responsive to their customers needs allows them to stand apart in a highly competitive marketplace. We'll then dig into a few features of linked union app such as searching for work, submitting apprenticeship hours, paying local union dues, and receiving time sensitive calls to action. And wonder conversation by understanding how LinkedUnion uses robust state of the art security to protect its users personal data. After the episode, be sure to check out the show notes for more information about Lake Union. Now on to the show. Steve Jones, welcome to Grit Nation.Steve Jones:
Thanks, show. Thanks for having me.Joe Cadwell:
Hey, thank you so much for taking your time today, Steve, to be on the show and talk to the listener audience about LinkedUnion. You are the founder and the CEO of LinkedUnion. And Steve, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit more about your backstory and how you came up with designing a mobilizing app to help union members stay informed, engaged and ultimately mobilized. You know,Steve Jones:
Joe, it's interesting that the birth of my company took place inside of a union hall and inside of a at a union meeting. In the Silicon Valley, San Jose, California, we had, you know, I was in a meeting where we representative about 117,000 Union households. And we had a politician who was going to put a pension reform on the ballot. And here we are in this Union City, an area that was very pro labor. And one of our champions for Labour decided she wanted to put pension reform on the ballot. We got together one night and said, you know, the night before the city council meeting, and we said, hey, we need to get a hold of our members, what's the best way to do that. And among the 117,000 households, we were able to collect somewhere between 200 to 300 emails or cell phone numbers. This was in 2012 2013. And I just was very disappointed that here we were up against, you know, in a battle in a fight, really to save union members in their retirement and there's their security, what they've worked so hard for. And we had the ability to get a hold of a 200 to 300 people. And I walked out of that meeting that night saying I'm going to do something to fix this, I'm going to develop a tool that allows members and their unions to stay connected, to stay engaged, and to provide everything the member would possibly need on a phone or a mobile app. And then everything that the union would need to be able to do to be able to connect with that member. Because a postcard wasn't gonna make it. I own a union printing company in San Jose, California, printed for most of the labor unions. And so they looked to me and said, Steve, can you get a postcard out by tomorrow morning? And I said, it's not possible. It's not gonna get there in one day. And so we needed a tool like text messaging.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah, it was not going to make it. So so this was back in 2012 2013. I mean, obviously, the iPhone had been around Android had been around, but apps were still sort of kind of a new concept and in technology.Steve Jones:
You're right, even in the Silicon Valley. You know, some of my bigger printing customers, folks that have really had a great relationship with the California Professional Firefighters, a lot of the UFCW groups, and a few of the building trades unions. They adopted the early technology, but most were scared of it. Most were worried about security. Most were worried about the data. Maybe they didn't know how to operate it. And so For about five years, we kind of just set it aside. And then back in 2017, we picked it back up. It's really exciting the things that we're doing and the new technologies that we're introducing. And it's all built by labor union members, we believe in the concept.Joe Cadwell:
There you go. And Steve, are you unique in the marketplace? Or is there anyone else trying to reach out to organize labor union using an app such as yours?Steve Jones:
There are some other companies that have that are in the market? I think there's three or four that that are out there. Some groups might call themself union strong, but they're not even union, which I think is a little bit interesting.Joe Cadwell:
That is interesting. And looking at your app and the interface for it, it seems very clean and very polished. What sets you aside from the from the aesthetics, what sets your linked union apart from the competition?Steve Jones:
Yeah, one of the things I think that sets us apart is it was it was created inside of a union hall, I had been working in the labor as an active union member, a shop steward of my union, for about 10 years, prior to even starting this, this technology. So one of the things that we have done and we are doing now is we travel the country, find out what is needed, and then build solutions to meet those needs. Specifically, even for some of your listeners, we've got a project going on with the Northwest carpenters, which we're really excited about. And really, the goal for that project is member engagement. You attend a union mate meeting, you might get five points, you if you attend the rally, you might get 20 points. And for each point you get there's there's a place on the app where you can shop with those points. So really, it's just getting members involved and engaged and participating in their union. It is their union,Joe Cadwell:
giving them some incentive to stay involved. And then, you know, getting them again, moving and that's the whole thing you know, with with the the genesis of our organization, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, which for a lot of folks who are listening may not know is, was started in 1881 by a fella named Peter J. McGuire. And Peter J. Mcguire had a three word saying it was educate, agitate, and organize. And back then, long before the advent of any technology like we have today, he was able to mobilize, you know, members all across the country to fight for a better way of life for the members. And now 141 years later, now we have products like linked union helping to engage our membership and help put them in, in control of their future. So I'm, I'm fully on board with this. I'm super excited to see what happens with the Northwest carpenters union, utilization and adoption of the LinkedIn app and interface. And I didn't I wasn't aware of this, Steve. But you actually when you design the app for the Northwest carpenters union in particular, and I'm not sure if this is all your apps, but the the website was also updated and and synthesized with the app. And is that part of the the standard product for Link unitSteve Jones:
is absolutely. What we were trying to do is solve problems, provide tools that allow a union to be able to do the things that they do best, which is really make those one on one connections with the members agitate, organize, inform. And so what we've done has built a back end dashboard to where you can update the app. And it will automatically update the website at the same time. Wow. If you know how to send an email with an attachment you can operate the the the app and the website. So you don't have to have a website to webmaster or an app master or someone like that. You have one platform that does it at the same time. Now if there's something you want on the app, and you don't want it on the website, you just click a button. And and you have that ability to control what is or what isn't seen.Joe Cadwell:
And so you said you had traveled around the country. And in our case in the Pacific Northwest, we're really working towards getting member engagement. What are some of the other challenges you found on your travels that unions were facing?Steve Jones:
One of the things especially with apprenticeship programs, is the state's requirements to report OJT hours. So we have a nice feature in the app which was created by the Hawaiian Hawaii carpenters admin, who's the director of the training center, they're tasked us to put together an app that gave a member the apprentice the ability to track their hours to sign up for courses to track their apprenticeship, OJT hours in the process types. So there's a lot of different things that we're doing, you know, as Wayne Gretzky and I'm not a hockey player. I played football in college, but I Did I did study Wayne Gretzky a little bit he says that to be successful, what made him great was not to chase the puck, it was to skate where it's going. So as a company linked union, what we're trying to do is get out in front, provide those things that will help organize, provide the tools that will help inform and engage.Joe Cadwell:
All right. And I do like the thought of the education and for a lot of folks who may not know OJT hours that's on the job training hours. And here in in the northwest, we have something called the MPR, the monthly progress report that our apprentices are required to to fill out monthly so that we can keep track of those OJT hours. So it sounds like a very, very useful tool there. So member engagement, helping out with apprenticeships, helping get members connected with Union reps, stay connected with their, with their locals, I even understand you have something built into a lot of your apps for the unions that address the highest number of people that take their lives every year that are, are in the building trades and what brought you to to add that to your products.Steve Jones:
One of our clients out of Southern California covers Southern California and Nevada. They had two suicides in one week. And by you know, this year prior to March, they had more suicides year to date in March than they had the previous year. And so we met with some key officials, we went to Boston, flew to Boston, my team met with some some union reps there and said, Okay, what are you guys doing right, because they were doing something different. So we went there and we put together a set of tools that we add to an app that enables a member to click a button to get whatever help they or their family members might need. A lot of the workers and members of the trades are come out of the military. We have a Helmets to Hardhats program. And so whether it's for suicide for addiction, just for some some support, we have a list of things that you can select, that will get you to those services right away.Joe Cadwell:
So someone that is perhaps experiencing a mental health crisis at that point in time can go and easily find the help that they need by clicking on the button brings them to the to the help that they are in need ofSteve Jones:
absolutely, and it connects them with whatever that Union's benefit packages are. If they have an employee assistance program, it will connect them right to those people.Joe Cadwell:
Gotcha. Wow, it sounds like there's a heck of a lot of potential for this. And I can only imagine that as the union's use of the product becomes more mature that the product can grow along with them. Is that true? This episode of grit nation is proudly supported by the carpenters union local 271 based in Eugene, Oregon. Thanks to their generosity, the hard working men and women of local 271 can now support an official I've got grit high visibility t shirt. This us made union printed garment features the American flag on the sleeve and sports the newly designed grit nation logo on the back I have to say it looks really sharp. Now I'm happy as a clam they have their support. Here local business or organization is interested in sponsoring the show like the members of the 271 I'd be happy to hear from you. Just visit the grit nation website at grit nation podcast.com To get started today, grit nation is proud to support those who support the blue collar working class tradespeople of America and Canada. And now back to the show.Steve Jones:
It is true and it's the nice thing about us versus maybe our competition is we do an update every Friday. And we built our platform to where when we update it, it can be updated for each group. And so as things change as technology change, which it does constantly, we're able to change with it. There's need for workers all over the country. And one of the things the app does as well as it also helps a member who's looking for work, they click a button and they could find where work is it just depends on the needs of the different groups we work with. Obviously, what our job is to is not chase, we're going to try to get out in front of it and try to make things easier for the Union and all the different things that they have to do and the members. One of the things we didn't mention earlier that the app also provides as a way for a member to pay their dues. So some locals in St. Louis or in Chicago, they would have to pay their dues over the counter and pull them off the jobsite because there weren't current drive into the union hall to pay their dues now they could just click a button, and our system will even notify them automatically if someone goes behind on their dues. So that's something that's available with the different apps that we provide.Joe Cadwell:
So it sounds like we're moving unions and the members engagement into the 21st century. It sounds like you know, this is a quantum leap forward from the the way a lot of unions have been doing business for for decades, if not more than a century.Steve Jones:
Well, we'll go at whatever pace they want to go. i We like our team likes the crawl, walk, run. And so we're by no means am I saying that that's our technology would take away from the need for a union rep or office administration. What our tech or technology does is it makes it more convenient, it makes it a little easier, makes it saves the locals money. I mean, they could put a newsletter on on a phone, that's a digital flip. So now instead of sending them out a postcard or a newsletter, by mail, you now the Union now has the analytics to see which pages the members looking at. Now, again, we don't get into too much because the security is a huge issue. Typically, we have a UPC number, and a date of birth is what we collect. And that will let us know that that person is a member of the Union,Joe Cadwell:
which was going to lead me to that question for a lot of folks maybe listening to this now, the very fact that you're listening to a podcast probably bodes well for you. But if you're if you have a technological phobia, and you have legitimate concerns about security, what are some of the safeguards that link union puts in to keep their members information safe? Well, we have firewallsSteve Jones:
built in with with the latest and best technology available. Again, we have a someone that watches a server, literally, it's a position at our company, but that we have to protect it all the time, one of the things that we do is we only collect a UPC number, and a date of birth. So nothing on our system is stored. If they're accessing a pension fund, or they're accessing health and welfare, that's going through their gateway. And so it's under their security, although the member will never leave the app, the portal that they're going through is under their security. So we're just a gateway to those to those places. We secure the data that we keep, which is very minimal. With the best security that's out there.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah, well, that makes a lot of sense and, and probably hopes, but put the rest some of the concerns, any new technology, especially for folks that, you know, we we work in a different type of environment, and most of us are not really tech savvy. And again, having been one of the few to recently beta test your product, I was really surprised at how easy and and smooth the interface was, and how informative and I really look forward to seeing what's added to it in the in the future. Now we had talked prior to hitting record on some some of your thoughts, Steve on the philosophy of grit, and you had zeroed in on the the name of the show being the grit nation podcast, and you had a few thoughts that we had talked about, and I was hoping you could share a little bit more. Yeah,Steve Jones:
absolutely. And thanks for asking, when I when I got the call or email from you, I noticed the name of your company grit nation. And to be honest with you, that's one of my favorite words. Linked connected is one. And that's why we're connected with unions. But the other is grit. My son works for a company called Grit. And I wasn't the smartest kid and in growing up, smartest kid in school, I was a pretty good football player. So I got into college because I played football. But one of the things that I learned early was that grit is one of the most important attributes. And I think that Joe, you, you don't know me very well, but I probably a lot more that like your members than you would think. And so one of the things that we've done at linked union is, is really based on a passion and trying to find tools and trades that provide results. Now during this journey that I've been on starting in 2012 You know, where, where this technology was adopted only by a couple. It's been difficult. I mean, I've I remember before COVID hit I was in 24 states in one month, and maybe I met with didn't meet in a couple of those states but literally one month I was in a different state every day in a meeting. And there was times when when like you said I would meet with someone and they'd say You know what, I'm just not we're not there yet. You know, and there's times I mentioned before the podcast that one of my favorite artists is Eminem and I'm not probably don't appear to be much of a rap guy but his the words in his songs till I collapse you know what some days I want to I it's hard to wake up it's I just want to quit I want to give up, but I'm not going to quit and and I really feel like grit is one of the thing that makes a cup Pretty great is what makes a union member great is their ability not necessarily to learn quickly or learn easily, but to learn and develop skills based on their willingness, I have a football coach in high school that if he asked me to run through a brick wall, I would. And I've got some big bumps on my forehead that probably proved that I did. But he always instilled in us be the best. And, and that's what we do as a company. The truth is, is if you were to sit through a presentation of ours and and I'll do our little plug for our company, our product is 100% money back guarantee, if the Northwest carpenters are not happy with it, we will give you every penny back.Joe Cadwell:
Because man, that's fantastic. We believeSteve Jones:
in this product. We believe in the cars. And the labor movement needs more moving, needs more agitating, more organizing needs more workers in these times. And that's what we're trying to do, Joe, and I'm grateful for you given us a voice and being able to share some of the things we're doing to stay ahead of the puck, so to speak.Joe Cadwell:
Well, this has been a fantastic conversation. Steve, where can people go to find out more about linked union,Steve Jones:
You can go to linked union.com.Joe Cadwell:
Fantastic. I'll make sure to add that to the show notes. Well, again, Steve Jones, thank you so much for taking your time to be on the show today. It's been a real pleasure.Steve Jones:
Thank you so much Joe, I appreciate it.Joe Cadwell:
My guest today was Steve Jones, CEO of the mobile member engagement app LinkedUnion. For more information about LinkedUnion, be sure to check out the show notes for this episode, or by visiting their website at LinkedUnion.com. Well, that wraps up another episode of the Grit Nation podcast, be sure to check out the Grid Nation website at Grit Nation podcast.com. There you'll find the entire Grit Nation library, as well as links to topics covered on the show from finance to fitness, labor history to leadership. If you haven't already done so I'd really appreciate it. If you could take one minute to leave a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. It definitely helps out and helping grow the show. Please consider sharing grid nation with a friend, family member or co worker or anyone else you think may get something out of it. As always, thanks for your continued support. And until next time, this is Joe Cadwell reminding you to work safe, work smart and stay union strong