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Building Strong Organizing Lists

NEA’s Guide to Union Strength and List Acquisition
Building strong lists allows organizers to more effectively and efficiently reach educators and protect public schools.
Published: April 3, 2024 Last Updated: April 3, 2024
This toolkit originally appeared on

How to use this toolkit

  • Learn the basics of data acquisition
  • Explore new sources for organizing lists
  • Sample language for data requests

Data Basics

Understanding Organizing Data

Now more than ever, strong public sector unions depend on their members. It is essential to meet and organize prospective members as early as possible.

Accessing and maintaining up-to-date information on all employees represented by the Local Association is an essential building block to a strong and effective organization. Having accurate data allows organizers to prioritize time and resources on the hardest to reach educators. 

Don't let the process of gathering data intimidate you! We've broken down the basics for you here.

Which Data Fields Are Most Important? 

When you are gathering your data, make sure to include the following pieces of information.

1. Basic identification and contact information is essential. This should include: 

  • First name 
  • Last name 
  • Work location 
  • Home address (If full home address is not available, including a ZIP code is helpful) 
  • Home telephone number 
  • Personal cell phone number 
  • Personal email address 

2. Basic worksite information is also essential. This should include: 

  • Job title 
  • Work location 
  • Employee ID number 
  • Work email address 
  • Date of hire

Model List Acquisition Processes 

Our model data processes help ensure data is accurate, accessible, and actionable for organizers at every level of our organization. The ideal process goes as following:

1. Local Affiliate receives list:

  • Through policy change, negotiated language, information request, publicly available data, FOIA, or some combination of them, the local receives their list. 

2. State Affiliate processes list from Local Affiliates: 

  • Flags members and potential members.
  • Initial data cleanup in Excel.

3. State Affiliates makes updated lists accessible for organizers:  

  • Membership processor adds all potential members to NEA360, including converting 360 Field Leads to potential members.
  • Updates member data records in NEA360 with new information.
  • Full membership list becomes available in NEA VAN and NEA360.
  • Potential members are available in VAN and NEA360 per state policies for dealing with potential members.

Acquire Data: Through Policy Change

Opportunities for Acquisition  

There are several strategies used by Affiliates across the country to access and maintain up-to-date contact and worksite information. The opportunities below are recommended in order of strength: the higher the recommendation, the more durable and secure your union’s rights to effectively represent and organize your members and potential members. 

However, the most successful unions do it all: secure rights through policy change; embed those rights in negotiated language and improve on them wherever possible; cultivate employer relationships to secure data and access most efficiently; and track public sources of information, using FOIA requests as needed. 

1. Policy Change

Policy change can be achieved at the state level through legislation or administrative/executive action, or at the local level through ordinances or school board policy changes.  

State Legislation: State legislation is an important way to secure access to data on the educators we represent. Armed with statutory language, we can bargain stronger contracts and secure regular access to information without frequent requests.
State Administrative Policy or Executive Action: Working with the governor and within the relevant state departments (ex. Education, Labor), states have secured policy changes that support access to data on the educators we represent.
School Board Policy: Without action taken at the statewide level through legislation or administrative action, Local Associations may secure policy at the school board level to secure access to data on the educators we represent.

Affiliates’ efforts have focused on two main areas: 

  1. Securing Rights to Contact Information for New Hires and All Represented Employees 
  2. New Employee Orientations (NEOs) and other access to New Employees 

Many states have passed bills that require employers to provide union representatives with contact information for new hires and for all employees in the bargaining unit and to grant access to new employee orientations.

We can seek policy changes even in states or localities that do not allow full collective bargaining laws. 

Key points to look for in language are:

  1. Limiting data access to the bargaining agent and restricting access by third parties to protect our members from intrusive approaches from anti-worker, anti-union organizations.
  2. The delivery of data in electronic form.  

Legislation Across the U.S.:

In 2017, California passed a model statute mandating early and frequent delivery of new employee data in AB119.

Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington have passed similar provisions.  

Acquire Data: Through Contract Negotiations

2. Negotiated Language 

Associations can and should negotiate contract language that requires every employer to provide contact information for new hires and for all employees in the bargaining unit. Even in states without collective bargaining, it is possible to secure language through the “meet and confer” process by writing these priorities into employee policy manuals and other formal documents. 

Strong contract language not only specifies the data fields to be shared, but also guarantees that the employer provide the information in a regular, timely manner. 

Further provisions can and should require that information on all new hires be provided immediately upon hiring, not simply after they begin working. The regular transfer of unit member information should also include a clear listing of employees who have retired, resigned, been dismissed, gone on long-term unpaid leave, been promoted or re-assigned, or otherwise left active employment in the unit. 

Your state’s right-to-know law may allow third parties to access personal employee information in order to harass educators. At the very least, bargain for notice to the union and an opportunity to respond when it happens.

In addition to securing the union access to such information on an ongoing basis, affiliates should consider amendments to state FOIA and “Right to Know” laws that restrict the ability of third parties to access detailed employee information, or at the very least, give the union advance notice and an opportunity to respond when a third party has requested such information.  

Acquire Data: Through Relational Information Request

3. Relational Information Request 

Many Associations have good working relationships with districts and can get employee contact information by submitting an information request to the district superintendent or human resources director.  

Where the Association has formal recognition as the exclusive representative, that status usually carries with it an obligation to represent the interests of everyone in the “unit”—whether they are Association members or not. Therefore, the Association has a right to know who that includes and how to contact them. Even in units without exclusive representation, employers should honor information requests.  

Nevertheless, relationships can change, so we recommend that the local push for policy changes or negotiated language whenever possible.

4. Utilize Publicly Available Data

In many districts, it is possible to assemble worksite data on education employees by systematically culling information from publicly available school websites. 

Local/Association Representatives and/or Member Organizers can also collect data at the worksite by leveraging relationships with school administrators and Education Support Staff. Once collected, they can be given to UniServ Directors for processing into NEA360 and other data systems. 

5. FOIA Request

When a superintendent or school board is unwilling to voluntarily agree to share the necessary information, filing an official “Freedom of Information Act” or “Right to Know” request under your state law may provide access to some basic information on public employees.  

If the options above for obtaining employee information are not available or efforts are unsuccessful, you may be able to obtain some such information through your state’s FOIA law. Check with your affiliate counsel before going this route, as you do not want to inadvertently open the door to disclosure of employee information to third parties if it does not currently exist in your state.  

Where a FOIA request is available and makes sense to pursue, it can be submitted to the District Superintendent for information on district employees. For a useful starting point in crafting such requests, see the model templates maintained by the National Freedom of Information Coalition for each state. As always, you should check with your affiliate counsel to confirm the reliability of the citations and models offered on that website. 

Acquire Data: Through FOIA Request

Dig Deeper

To engage and sign up new bargaining unit members, we must know who they are as early as possible. In order to effectively represent everyone in the bargaining unit and recruit members at key times (for example, during the contract process), we need regular electronic delivery of bargaining unit lists.   

Check out our full YRO manual for more information and strategies on data and list acquisition. To get access to the YRO Resources site, contact NEA at [email protected]

YRO Manual on List Acquisition 


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