Labor unions are using Twitter and Facebook to communicate. The implications may be surprising.

Add labor unions to the long list of organizations using social media to share complex information with their members.

The United Auto Workers had staffers in hallways outside of bargaining rooms who were charged with updating Facebook and Twitter pages with details of ongoing negotiations with the big three automakers.

This marks a shift from negotiations held four years ago, when union members crowded into union halls for updates—and even earlier in the current negotiations, when the UAW’s Web site crashed because so many of its members were looking for updates.

“Labor leaders, take notes! Quiz later,” the group New Labor Media posted on its Twitter page in referencing a blog post about the latest trend.

Unions say that the new method helps them keep the process transparent.

Employers may also be happy with the process: in the UAW negotiations, companies helped the union set up a Web site which allowed members to get email updates on negotiations for the first time. Members have also used it to discuss negotiations among themselves and push back against problem areas before deals are finalized.

And critics of big labor are also seeing opportunities in the social media updates.

“Ez for companies to monitor and should reconcile union rhetoric vs. facts,” James Donnelly tweeted.

Social media present some other challenges for labor, including a theory that Facebook and other social networks that allow employees to discuss issues outside of work could one day replace organized labor altogether.

“Like all institutions trying to slow their decline in an age of networks, labor unions have scurried to get hip to the new media. But attempts to galvanize social network unionism through clone Facebook services like UnionBook have fallen flat. People don’t need others to tell them how to organize; they can talk directly to each other now,” Tom Hayes wrote in his Huffington Post commentary.

Image by srqpix

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