PMA Partners With BIPAC for Grassroots Education Effort

It’s no small or narrow consequence that Facebook filters its “Newsfeed” to block stories that would appeal to conservative readers. The impact that Facebook and other internet sites have on what people believe, and ultimately how they vote, is profound. Studies show that people look to internet-based news now more than to newspapers, television or any other source.

Now, PMA has fully engaged on the information battlefield by partnering with BIPAC; a Washington D.C. group that promotes employee education from a source that workers see as the most credible – their employers. PMA has officially signed on as the state deployment partner of BIPAC.

“The media rarely explain how public policy decisions change the business climate,” said PMA President David N. Taylor, a member of BIPAC’s board. “By becoming BIPAC’s Pennsylvania partner, PMA will work with businesses to encourage more dialogue with employees, and provide non-partisan civic education on the policies that directly affect their workplaces and the future of their jobs.”

BIPAC started as a political action committee in 1963, but has expanded over the years to become a provider of information and tools, which have grown more sophisticated as technology has advanced, that employers and employees use for advocacy on a grassroots level. Jim Gerlach, BIPAC’s President and CEO, and former Congressman from Pennsylvania, stresses that BIPAC isn’t, as it’s sometimes been accused in the media, working with its state partners to tell employees how to vote. 

“What we’re doing is facilitating a non-partisan civics lesson,” Gerlach said. “And we’re doing it for employees who have said overwhelming that they want their employers to inform them on issues that affect the economy. Surveys show that employees view employers far ahead of both political parties combined, and organized labor, as credible sources on business issues.”

Gerlach said the state partners, such as PMA, identify the issues and BIPAC provides the tools that range from designing or co-branding of a web site, email campaigns, newsletters, displaying voting records, and other grassroots education efforts.

“The tools and strategies keep their employees abreast of the key policy decisions impacting their livelihoods,” he said. “And give them the opportunities to get involved in the public policy process. The result is we help state business organizations impact political outcomes beyond the beltway, through the nation’s largest employee-focused grassroots network in the states.”

One of BIPAC leading efforts, the Prosperity Project, educates and motivates the private sector workforce through employer-to-employee communications (E2E).

E2E communication has increased dramatically over just the last few election cycles. A 2014 white paper, “Best Practices for Employer-to-Employee Communications with the U.S. Congress,” shows that in 2006, only seven percent of employees heard from their employers on issues in mid-term years, in 2010, 13 percent did, and in 2014, 31 percent did.

A critical element to it all is constancy in the delivery of information, Gerlach said.

“Many people think policy and politics only when elections come around,” he said. “We provide BIPAC member companies with tips on interacting with elected officials, so they can encourage their employees to engage in a year round dialog about the importance of grassroots and political advocacy.”

The effort is paying off. Nearly one third of the respondents (32%) in a BIPAC survey said information from their employers had increased their involvement and/or awareness in the political process, and more than half (57%) said information from their employer had directly led them to send a letter to their legislator. Another one third (33%) indicated information from their employer had directly led to them voting, and more than one quarter (29%) said employer information had directly led them to vote for a particular candidate. Moreover, more than half (51%) said they would like to receive weekly or monthly updates on issues from their employers.

Kelly Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs, Campbell Soup Company, said that the company's relationship with BIPAC has changed how the company approaches advocacy and the very complexion of the company itself.  “We believe that our best advocacy does not actually happen in Washington,” he said. “It happens at our facilities around the country and around the world. It happens with our employees when they engage with elected or regulatory officials - federal or state level.”

Campbell’s, Johnston says, has a very good policy education website and grassroots mobilization efforts. Through the website, employees can register to vote, learn about the issues, they can know where to cast their votes, and it gives them a vehicle to stay informed about the issues that are important to them - because they are important to their employer.

Campbell’s has also discovered a side benefit to the increase in the E2E communication. “It’s a marvelous way to build friendships,” Johnston said.

PMA’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Carl A. Marrara, worked with BIPAC’s former Pennsylvania partner, the Pennsylvania Business Council, on get-out-to-vote efforts, candidate information gathering, and grassroots letters to lawmakers.

“I’ve already seen the impact that BIPAC can have, firsthand,” Marrara said. “But it’s a true partnership. Without our identifying issues and BIPAC’s help in providing the most effective tools in communicating, many employers and their employees simply wouldn’t be able to make informed decision when they vote - or even have the motivation to vote.”

California, Minnesota, and Indiana saw record online voter registrations in September, election officials in those states say, due to a Facebook voter registration drive.

In California on September 23, the day a voter registration reminder first appeared on Facebook, 123,279 people registered to vote or updated their registrations online. The number marked the fourth-highest total for any one day since the state’s online registration site launched in September 2012, according to a report in the New York Times.

For businesses it boils down to an obvious choice between an online site that suppresses news, or employer-based news that educates workers on policies that could very well decide the direction of the economy, and potentially the future of their very jobs. It’s up to employers to engage in the later.

For more information on programs that are available to you and your employees, please email Carl Marrara at marrara@pamanufacturers.org

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