Ver.di extends connexx project to attract media employees
In September 2001, the German Unified Service Sector Union (ver.di), announced a plan to extend connexx, its successful flagship project for the media industry, until 2005. To boost the union's image among media sector employees and to improve the organised representation of employees in this industry, ver.di will increase connexx's staff and budget.
On 13 September 2001, some 100 employees from private radio stations, internet companies, and the film industry met in Frankfurt to share their experience of a trade union project called connexx.av, sponsored by the recently established Unified Service Sector Union (Vereinigte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft. Connexx is the first attempt by a German trade union to offer a wide range of membership services to employees who are not yet union members. 'This is exactly how a union should be,' proclaimed Frank Bsirske, president of ver.di, when he addressed the participants at the connexx 'summit'.
In October 1999, prior to the creation of ver.di (DE0104220F), connexx.av was founded as a joint project of the Media Workers' Union (IG Medien) and the German White-Collar Workers' Union (Deutsche Angestelltengewerkschaft, DAG), aimed at targeting non-unionised journalists, camera-operators and technicians in the private media industry. Later, the project was extended to employees in the 'dot.com' industry. The new agency started with a budget of DEM 2.5 million and maintained offices in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne, but was initially limited to a three-year trial period.
The major aim of connexx is to improve the image of unions among the mostly high-skilled but non-union workforce in the growing media industry. Without pressuring these employees to join the union, connexx offers employees a wide range of services, mostly free of charge. Thus the organisation provides assistance and gives advice on:
- concluding employment contracts;
- resolving work-related conflicts, in particular in the field of working time
- social insurance issues;
- copyright law;
- performance appraisals; and
- issues related to old-age pensions.
Most of these services are available through a telephone hotline, but connexx also offers advice by e-mail. In September 2001, when ver.di evaluated the project that it had inherited, the union found in a survey that the new agency was more popular among media workers than ver.di itself. While 19.6% of the employees surveyed thought positively of ver.di (28.0% had a negative opinion and 50.9% no experience with the union) a striking 63.9% had a positive opinion of connexx (with 0.7% having a negative opinion, while 34.7% answered that they have too little information to make a judgment).
Besides its positive image, connexx also seems to pay off in terms of more tangible aspects of the representation of employees' interests. As reported to the participants at the connexx summit, the new organisation has helped to set up some 50 new works councils, the new works council at the Pixelpark multimedia agency being among the most prominent of these cases (DE0106230F). In addition, and even without aggressively approaching workers, connexx has recruited about 700 new members for ver.di.
According to Mr Bsirske, ver.di's executive committee was most impressed by the new agency's flexibility, creativity and competence. The union has decided to extend the connexx project until 2005, to treble the number of representatives working for the agency and to spend about 10% of ver.di's so-called 'innovation fund' on it. In a break from previous union practices, the new connexx agency has been given far-reaching autonomy. While connexx still represents only a minor part of ver.di's activities, the union hopes later to extend these new experiences to the entire organisation.