Is There a Union Meeting — Who cares?

Anna Smith

January 23, 2020

Share this article

(This article first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

Far too many local unions are not able to secure a quorum in order to carry out the functions of their membership meetings and fully represent the interests of the members. This problem is serious. Too many members never attended a meeting during their entire career. Below are a few of the reasons for not participating usually heard:

• “I don’t have the time.” Most meetings are regulated to about 2.5 hours once a month, once a quarter, or some even have them only twice a year. Two and a half hours out of 730 hours in a month is not too much to ask when you consider what is required to occur at a union meeting.

• “If they hold them on a different day I’d go.” Most locals have fixed dates for meetings written in their bylaws. The APWU represents multiple crafts and more often than not members work on different tours. An effort should be made to rotate the meetings.

• “All they do is fight.” A membership meeting is usually the lawmaking authority in a local. Not the President, not the Executive Board, it is the membership that truly is supposed to ensure the membership is properly represented. There are Rules of Order that are supposed to ensure a democratic and orderly meeting.

• “The meetings are boring!” Most local bylaws have an “Order of Business” with required reports such as that of the President and the all-important Financial Report. Some of the locals have not updated their by-laws and still call unfinished business “old business.” However, almost all locals also have “new business” listed. Under this item many issues can be discussed, including what is the current problem important to the rank-and-file members.

• “I don’t get how they talk.” Too often regular attendees who are used to “parliamentary procedure” get too technical. The purpose of ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ is to ensure questions are handled democratically. The Chair should not be dictator. The Chair’s main function is to get the business done in accordance with the local’s constitution and by-laws and protect everyone’s right to participate. The rules can be used to try to undermine the will of the members present and the Chair has to prevent that.

How Can We Improve Meetings?

How can a local ensure a sufficient number of members attend their meeting?

There is no magic wand, but here are some ideas:

• Welcome new attendees. Explain what happens at the meeting. If time is taken to make the meeting meaningful; they will likely return. Work at helping that member so that they realize meetings work! They will let others know and so interest will grow.

• Give members a sense of power and ownership of their union. We preach that members are union and too often do not include them in enough of the process. Make this an event where they can truly see their elected leaders in action on behalf of every member.

• Spruce up the agenda under new business. If there are controversial issues on the work floor make that a topic of new business. Let them vote on policy positions of the locals. Invite guest speakers.

• Announce the meeting well in advance and follow up with personal contacts with individual members. Don’t give up on them if they are a no show. Go back and ask them why they were not able to attend. If possible, rotate the meetings. Space will not permit me to elaborate more but there are hundreds of ideas and projects. Form a committee to work on some.

Next time someone asks “Is there a Union Meeting?” the response is “yes there is, can I pick you up to go together?”

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.