Organising workers scattered across small shops

Large workplaces are much more likely to be unionised than smaller ones. So how do activists in Greggs bakeries and shops stay in touch with workers scattered across over 1500 workplaces?

Gregg's shop storefront

Photo: Unisouth

Greggs includes both bakeries and shops. The bakeries are the base of the BFAWU Greggs branches, with many branch officials working in the bakery, as drivers or as engineers. Branches also cover up to 400 shops each, often spread across a large area. The bakeries also deliver to franchise shops such as MOTO and Euro garages, but these are not in the same branches.

Branches typically only have 6-8 stewards. The facilities agreement allows just five days a year to travel round visiting shops and recruiting, but days unused by one steward can be used by another. In city centres with lots of shops it doesn’t take long to visit quite a few, but it can take a couple of hours to get to some more remote stores. Greggs have agreed to extra days where necessary to ensure all shops are visited at least once per year.

Face to face communication is the best way to recruit new members but we have had to find other approaches to work around the difficulty of covering so many shops as well as working in your own.

When activists meet up, we talk to employees in nearby shops before and after meetings, adding extra face time to the five days we are allowed.

We organise ourselves based on the employer’s structures. Each shop is in an area manager group. Each steward covers 2-3 area manager groups of shops. This helps us avoid duplicating work or missing out shops. We make sure there are posters in every shop letting all the staff know who their local shop steward is.

The employer holds weekly conference calls between shops. Shop stewards speak on these and let people know about union activities.

We use the branch secretary and full time officers to pick up any slack around recruiting in shops that are hard to reach or have been missed. They help revisit shops so they are visited more than once each year.

Every week the shop stewards ring shops to pass on union information and to see if there are any issues. Usually we give each shop a specific time they can ring back to discuss any issues, so everyone gets time rather than it being used up by a few. It makes a big difference having the buy-in from shop managers, most of whom are union members themselves. They keep the channels of communication open. Members in the shops have stewards’ numbers, so if management withdrew facilities or cooperation we could still function, but we wouldn’t have such regular contact. We don’t yet use social media to communicate between stewards and members.

Communication is vital. When you have limited facility time and a 150 mile round trip to see some members, regular telephone contact is the best way to keep them informed and to keep the union to keep up to date with their issues. Members who are actively listened to are more likely to stay members and speak positively about the union – even if it is usually by phone rather than face to face.

Members in Greggs are the biggest part of our union.

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