Housecalls as an Organizing Tool

Housecalling is an incredibly effective method of organizing that every activist who is serious about building grassroots movements should learn to master. The following tutorial is focused on union organizing, but nearly all of the advice given below can easily be used by people interested in organizing for different purposes, such as community organizing.

Housecall Fundamentals
[From the IBEW 5th District website]

There are no anti-Union workers, only workers who have not received, or who fail to understand, the Union message. If this is our truth, then when we fail to organize --- what we have is a failure to communicate. The key to Union building, to organizing the unorganized, rests with our ability to master the art of persuasive communications.

What is Persuasive Communication?

      What is persuasion? Persuasion is the process of changing or reinforcing a person's attitudes, beliefs, values or behavior. Trying to get your members to attend COMET classes, to attend Union meetings, to seek employment as Salts and to vote and support higher working dues for organizing are all examples of efforts to persuade. In organizing, your goal is simple. You must persuade the unorganized worker to join and become an active, involved member of the IBEW. The only way this can be accomplished is by changing or reinforcing the worker's attitudes, beliefs and values concerning Unions.

      Before you can change something, you must understand what it is. Let's examine the three factors that influence how we think and feel about things.

1. ATTITUDES -- Attitudes reflect or express our likes and dislikes. What's your attitude toward buttermilk? If you like it, you have a positive attitude toward it. If you hate it and it gives you gas, you have a negative attitude toward it. Or, perhaps, you have no strong feelings about buttermilk at all -- you can take it or leave it. Your attitude is one of indifference. Our attitudes toward persons, places and things can be classified as either positive, negative or indifferent. In persuasive communications, the more you know about a person's attitudes and how they developed those attitudes, the better you can adapt your message to them.

2. BELIEFS -- Our beliefs reflect or express whether we accept something as being either true or false. If we believe in something, we are convinced it exists. We may believe that intelligent life exists on some other planet and yet not believe in the existence of flying saucers. We believe something to be true or false depending on our past experiences or the evidence that we have available. In persuasive communications, it is very important to understand the key beliefs of the person we are attempting to persuade. Since beliefs are founded on what's believed to be true or false, your communications to change a person's beliefs most often should focus on issues of fact.

3. VALUES -- Our values are an enduring concept of what's good and bad, right and wrong. What do you value? Most of us value things like religion, marriage, family, Unions, freedom, honesty, trustworthiness and loyalty. If you value something, you think of it as good or right. If you don't value something, you think of it as bad or wrong. Values form the basis of our goals in life and are the motivating force behind our behavior. In persuasive communications, understanding a person's values provides an opportunity for you to adapt the content of your message to conform with those values.

        As organizers, we can change worker's attitudes by discussing what they like or dislike, such as "I don't like the idea of paying dues," or "I like finding my own jobs."

        We can also change what workers believe to be true or false, such as their belief that Unions call strikes or their belief that the IBEW doesn't want them as members.

        And, finally, we can align worker's values with our own. We can talk about how the core values that the IBEW stands for, such as fairness, dignity and respect, are aligned with theirs.

Active Listening -- The Most Important Skill in Persuasive Communications

        Are you an active listener? Did you hear or listen to the question? Listening and hearing are not the same. That's right. Hearing is simply our ability to process sounds. You may hear the words that I speak, but that doesn't necessarily mean you were listening to what I said. When we listen, we not only hear the words, but we also try to make sense out of what was said.

        Far too often, when we communicate, we don't listen. Our minds are preoccupied with how we are going to respond or what argument we are going to put forth next. Active listening occurs when we focus our complete attention on what is being said and the person's viewpoint, thoughts and feelings, are understood.

        The best way to learn about a person's attitudes, beliefs and values is to ask questions and actively listen to the responses.

        To gain information, never ask closed-end questions, that is, questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Always ask open-ended questions, that is, questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why or how.

Factors Involved in Persuasive Communications

In addition to being an active listener, other key factors in persuasive communications are:

  • Credibility -- Credibility is the ability to be perceived as believable and reliable.

  • Competence -- Competence is the ability to be perceived as informed, skilled and knowledgeable.

  • Trustworthiness -- Trustworthiness is the ability to be perceived as honest and sincere.

  • Logic -- Logic is the ability to use facts or rules to make an argument.

  • Reasoning -- Reasoning is the ability to draw a conclusion from the evidence.

  • Proof -- Proof is the ability to unequivocally establish that a fact or statement is correct.

  • Emotion -- Emotion is the ability to be perceived as energetic and enthusiastic.

Three Key Axioms in Persuasive Communications
"To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful."
                                                                                             ----Edward R. Morrow
  • Persuasion will be more likely to occur if you try to change a person's point of view gradually rather than suddenly.

  • Persuasion will be more likely to occur if the advantages of what you propose are greater than the disadvantages.

  • Persuasion will be more likely to occur if what you propose meets the person's needs. (Remember, people buy drills, but what they need are holes.)

What Are the Advantages of Housecalling?

Face to Face Communications -- Housecalling affords you an opportunity to sit down and talk with a worker face to face. If you are trying to persuade someone to do something, there is no more effective method of communications than face to face.

  • Non-threatening Environment -- People tend to be more at ease and feel less threatened when they are in familiar surroundings. Obviously, a person's home falls in this category. It's a "I'm on my own turf" thing!

  • Fewer Distractions -- Sure, you may have to compete sometimes with the kids watching TV or the phone might ring, but it beats the hell out of standing out in front of the job site or trying to talk over the crowd noise and a blaring jukebox down at the neighborhood bar. Seated at the dining room table or out on the back porch offers a great opportunity to communicate without distractions.

  • Opportunity to Communicate with Spouse and Other Family Members -- Housecalling affords you an opportunity to, not only communicate with the worker, but many times, you can also meet with the worker's spouse and other family members. Quite often, it's the spouse that is more interested and has questions on such things as medical insurance, retirement and dental plans. Changing jobs and joining the Union is a life-altering decision -- a decision involving the whole family. Housecalling allows you an opportunity to discuss that decision with the whole family.

  • Fewer Time Constraints -- Housecalling affords you an opportunity to communicate with a worker at a much more leisurely pace. If the worker runs out of time, you can always make an appointment to continue the discussions. Remember, it's about creating relationships and building credibility. That takes time!

Local Union Housecall Program

        Your goal is to communicate the Union message to every unorganized electrical worker in your jurisdiction. Where should you start? Who should be contacted first? These are questions that can be best answered in your Local Union Strategic Organizing Plan. Targeting priorities are based on strategic considerations, such as whole markets, contractor size, demographics and available resources. Once the targeting priorities have been decided, the next step is to develop a housecall program for recruiting key (well qualified) workers from the targeted employers.

Steps to Establish a Local Union Housecall Program

Step 1.     Identify and develop a complete list of all regular workers for each targeted                   contractor. The list should contain names, addresses, phone numbers and any and all other pertinent information that can be obtained. Sources for this information can be:

  • Newly organized member

  • Job site organizers (Salts)

  • Public licensing

  • Signatory Contractor

  • Employment agencies

  • Payroll records

  • Supply houses

  • Electrical Inspectors

  • City Directories

Step 2.
Using the IBEW's "Profile of the Unorganized Electrician (PUE)" (SEE APPENDIX "A") as a guide, identify as Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, etc. for each worker. This information will be used to determine the key (well-qualified) workers.

Step 3. Prepare for each Organizer a customized Contact Book. The book will contain information on the agreement, Union benefits programs, etc. It is very important that you also include in the Contact Book lots of photographs and testimonials about the Union from your rank-and-file members.

Step 4. Establish and maintain a housecall file. From the file, develop a weekly housecall schedule outlining the number of housecalls to be made and who is to be contacted. All housecalls (contacts) will be recorded providing information on the results, the worker responses and whether he or she is to be re-contacted. (SEE APPENDIX "B")

Step 5. Develop a list of members, apprentices and spouses who are willing to accompany organizers on housecalls.

Step 6. Develop a list of community leaders, religious leaders, signatory contractors, etc. that can be used as intermediaries to set up appointments and to also accompany organizers on housecalls.

NOTE:  DON'T CALL AHEAD. Unless you know the worker is expecting a home visit -- calling and asking for an appointment doesn't work. You are a thousand times more likely to have a meaningful conversation if you just drop by. Tell the worker you were in the neighborhood. If the time isn't right, ask for an appointment at a more convenient time.

Tools Needed for Housecalling

        As with any other job, to make an effective housecall , you need the proper tools. Your housecall toolbox should contain the following:

  • Business Cards -- Identify and verify who you are.

  • Contact Book -- As a persuasive tool, rank-and-file members pictures and testimonials are most effective.

  • IBEW Constitution -- Primarily used to answer specific question.

  • Local Union Bylaws -- Primarily used to answer specific questions.

  • Local Union Agreement -- Used to support logic, reasoning and/or proof of persuasive factors.

  • Union Message Materials -- Flyers, videos, booklets, etc. that contain information on the IBEW. This can be left with the workers and provides opportunities for follow-up visits.

Let's Get Started -- Go Do Know

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." ----Aristotle

        There are some things in life that the best way to learn them is by doing. It's called the
GO--DO--KNOW method of learning.

        Take diving for example. In order to dive, you must first climb a ladder or some stairs to a board or platform. You then jump off. Diving is learned in midair, not from reading books, watching films or listening to someone talk about it. You must GO off the board. You are then in the DO phase. You do the dive and hit the water and, at that point, you KNOW. You've learned something by doing it.

          The same thing applies to making housecalls. Once you've familiarized yourself with the fundamentals, you GO and knock on the worker's door. You DO the most effective job you know how to communicate the Union message and earnestly invite the worker to join the IBEW. When you leave the worker's home, you KNOW. You can immediately make a self-evaluation of how well you did. You take what you've learned and GO apply it in your next housecall. The loop is complete. The more first-hand experience you gain, the more effective you will become.

You will find making housecalls interesting, challenging, exciting and, most of all, rewarding.

The DO'S and DON'TS of Housecalling
"Your listeners won't care what you say until they know that you care."                                                                                                          ----Anonymous

        You walk up to the house, knock on the door, introduce yourself and explain to the worker that you would like to talk with him. You are invited in. What happens next? Here are some of the do's and don'ts in housecalling.

Do's of Housecalling

  • Do ask questions and actively listen.

  • Do talk about the worker's issues and needs.

  • Do talk about a vision for the future.

  • Do find common ground.

  • Do involve the worker's spouse and family.

  • Do use positive words like: dreams, caring, fair, courage, pride, dignity, we/us/our.

  • Do earnestly invite the worker to join the IBEW.

Don'ts of Housecalling

  • Don't talk too much.

  • Don't assume you know it all.

  • Don't lie.

  • Don't argue; use your persuasive communications skills.

  • Don't get upset. Remember, in some cases, people's attitudes and feelings are apt to be emotional and non-rational rather than logical. Be prepared to deal with this.

  • Don't frighten or attempt to intimidate.

  • Don't forget why you are there. Stay focused.

  • Don't use profanity.

  • Don't smoke or drink -- don't even think about it.

  • Don't overstay your welcome.


"A vision can be defined as an image of a desired state that you want to get to. Once fully seen, it will inspire you to act, fuel your motivation and determine your behavior."
                                                                                                ----Charles Garfield

        The most critical of all personal communications is when you are persuading others. You "communicate" yourself, your message and your organization. If you are to be effective, what counts is believability.

        People make most decisions based on emotions, but they validate their decisions based on logic and reasoning. Before they will believe in the message, they must believe in the messenger.

        For you to be believable, you must believe. When your beliefs are aligned with your message, your energy, excitement and emotions will radiate and motivate your listeners into action.

That's the power of persuasive communications. That's the power to make things happen!! USE IT!



Level 1

        15-25 years of experience. Will have spent most of his time at the same shop. Usually a self-starter. Some vocational training/background. Some self-training. Knows the company's business. Has personal contact and responsibilities with customers, wholesalers, general contractors, architects, engineers, total management/supervisor role. UNION COMPARABLE-SHOP FOREMAN

Level 2

        7-20 years of experience. Dependable. Good Journeyman skills. Responsible for day-to-day operation of the jobs. Coordinates all job activities - any additional materials, scheduling, etc. In other words, he's the only one who actually does the work and makes Level 1 look good! UNION COMPARABLE-JOB FOREMAN

Level 3

        4-7 years experience. Capable of performing at a Journeyman or upper class apprentice level. UNION COMPARABLE-JOURNEYMAN

Level 4

        1-4 years experience. Considered an apprentice and does some Journeyman level work. UNION COMPARABLE-APPRENTICE/I.J.

Level 5



An Organizer was trying to explain his inability to organize a single new member after being on the job for a month. "You know," he said to the Business Manager. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."

        "Make him drink?", the Business Manager shouted. "Make him drink? Before we can make him drink, our job is to make him thirsty!"

<<Back to Organizing and Action
<<Back to Table of Contents