Duties of the Recording Secretary
“Don’t Mourn for me — Organize!”
Joe Hill Last words spoken before his execution, November 19, 1915
The Recording Secretary of a local union has the following duties:
- Keep all records of the meetings of the local union, Executive Board and negotiating committee.
- Conduct all correspondence and present the correspondence to the local union meeting.
- Provide the union regularly with an up-to-date mailing list of the local’s members.
- Keep careful files of correspondence, minutes, grievances, literature and other records.
- The kind of meeting (regular, special or Executive Board).
- The name of the organization.
- The date, time, and place of meeting.
- The name of chair and secretary.
- The approval or correction of the minutes of the previous meeting.
- Summaries of reports of the officers and committees including recommendations made and the action taken on them. Receipts and disbursements since the last meeting as given by the financial secretary and treasurer, should be stated in the minutes.
- The text of all motions made and seconded, the name of the maker, and the action taken on the motion. When the vote is by show of hands, roll call, or secret ballot, the exact vote for and against the motion should be entered.The secretary must get the correct wording of the motion. If the secretary is not sure, he or she should ask the chair to repeat it. It is not necessary to write up the discussion on a motion, although it is a good idea to summarize the debate on important motions.
- The time of adjournment.
The minutes of a meeting are an accurate and permanent record of the activities and official actions of the local. They are also a reminder to members of what went on at the last meeting. The minutes should be clear and accurate so that when referred to at a later date there is no doubt what action the members took or didn’t take on the business brought up. They should contain enough detail so that when they are read at the next meeting, a member who was absent will understand what happened at the last meeting.
Take notes during the meeting. Have a copy of the agenda in front of you as a guide. Write up a rough draft of the minutes as soon as possible so notes do not get “cold.” If you are not sure how it sounds, read it aloud to yourself. Be brief but exact in wording. Don’t put in the details of discussion, reports, and speeches.
The minutes should not in any way reflect the personal opinion of the secretary.
Copy the minutes into the minute book. The minutes should be typed or written in ink in a well bound book with strong covers. The secretary should sign the minutes of every meeting.
If a correction is made in the minutes at the next meeting, the secretary writes the correction at the end of the minutes and initial it.
When called upon by the chair during the union meeting, the secretary reads the minutes of the previous meeting so that the membership may approve the accuracy of this official record of their action. The secretary should stand and read slowly and clearly. It is not a wise policy to insist that if a matter isn’t very important it should be read fast and gotten over with. In some locals the minutes are typed and distributed to the membership.
The secretary can be an important aid to the chair during the meeting by helping the chair following the agenda and reading back accurately worded motions when needed.
The recording secretary often has the job of handling correspondence. This includes initiating and answering letters, keeping the proper committee chairs and local union officers informed of correspondence received, keeping the membership informed of communications, and maintaining an efficient file of correspondence.
All letters and bills received by the local should be reviewed by the Executive Board before the membership meeting. Some local unions elect a Corresponding Secretary to handle communications.
At the proper point in the order of business — after the reading and approval of the minutes — the President asks the Secretary: “Are there any letters or bills?” The Secretary then reads or summarizes them.
Letters from the International Officers of the union and other important correspondence should be read completely at the meeting. But many letters can be summarized and do not need to be read in full. The secretary or whoever is doing the reading might say: “We have a letter here from the March of Dimes asking for a contribution. Does anyone want me to read the whole thing?” Or, the following form for a summary might be used:
|Letter is from:||Date:|
|Action requested or required by local:|
Every letter which the union received should be at least mentioned to the members. They are entitled to know what correspondence their union is engaged in. It might be a good idea for the Secretary to bring the file of letters to the meeting and let interested members look them over after adjournment.
In some cases where the letter may be long but important, it might be wise to read only several key sentences or paragraphs. The secretary should go over the letters beforehand and underline the parts he/she plans to read. For example, the secretary might say, “this letter announces the monthly meeting of the State AFL-CIO Council on February 25. I will read the last paragraph of the letter which deals with the threat of a “right-to-work” bill in our state.”
Open all letters when they are received and show them to the officers. Give the proper letters to the committee chair. When a letter deals with a subject that is the responsibility of a committee, that letter should be passed on to the committee chair immediately. For example, if the local received a letter from the District announcing the District Summer Leadership Training Institute, that letter should be immediately directed to the attention of the chair of the education committee.
Some large locals may find copying machines useful. Where this is not possible, it is a good idea to put a routing slip on the top of the letter. List all the people who should see the letter, in the proper order. When one person has seen it, he/she crosses-off his/her name and pass it on to the next person on the list.
Regardless of who is writing the letter, before it is written decide what you want to say. Often it takes a good deal of thought to get the situation clear in your own mind and to organize your ideas. Think over the purpose of the letter. Why are you writing it? What point do you want to make? What are you asking for in the letter? What information do you want? In the first paragraph, explain the subject of the letter – what it is about.
The next paragraphs should give all the important facts or information. Remember that the person receiving the letter does not know as much as you do about the problem or the local. Tell the individual what needs to be known.
Write letters as if you were talking. Avoid big words. Use common every day language and short sentences. This makes your meaning clear.
Stick to one subject in a letter. Always include your name and office or title in the local; the local number; the address to which you want the reply sent.
Keep a carbon copy of all important local correspondence and keep an adequate file of correspondence.
The purpose of filing is to keep letters and records that the local may need in the future. It is not necessary to keep every piece of correspondence or every leaflet that the local receives. However, when in doubt, it is best to save it — then go through the files once a year and throw out all materials no longer useful.
Some letters should be given to committee chairs, and they should make the decision whether to keep them. (Information, for example, on current bills in the state legislature might logically be passed on to the Legislative Chair.) Official letters from the International or District should be kept and filed. Copies of all official letters written by the local on important local business should be kept for several years. Clip the copy and the answer together. Correspondence files, such as these, are the property of the local. When the secretary goes out of office, he or she should turn them over to the new secretary immediately.
Every local should keep a file of written grievances. This type of file may be kept by the date the grievance was written. Or it may be kept by the subject of the grievance – a file on seniority grievances, a file on overtime grievances, rate grievances, safety grievances, etc.
A file should also be kept on every arbitration case, containing all background materials, the brief, etc.
Other files the local may wish to maintain for bargaining or grievance purposes are:
- Minutes of grievance meetings.
- Copies of company posters or notices to employees regarding hours, vacation, etc.
- Reports published by the company on the insurance plan, number of pensioners, etc.
- Literature from the International Education, Publicity, or other Departments.
Important records of committee activities should be kept. For example, there should be a file of local newspapers, or handbills, publicity releases to newspapers, etc.
Committees will find it helpful to keep files of information that may help them in their work – Legislative Bulletins, Education Bulletins, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, etc.
A Word of Caution:
`The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”
Your job is a difficult one at best and vitally important to your local union. DO NOT HESITATE TO DEMAND TIME TO DO IT RIGHT! If motions are made too fast to write down at the time . . . ask for a restatement by the maker so you can get it in writing correctly.
You will be held accountable for it later and should make sure it’s correct!
Some locals require that motions be re-read BEFORE the members vote. This requires the Recording Secretary to have the motion written down accurately!
Don’t assume everyone understands words to mean the same thing.
Your language should be as clear and uncomplicated as it can be. Re-read your written words from the viewpoint of a person who knows nothing about the subject … you will be surprised at the results.
Avoid the multi-syllable words which may not impress but CAN confuse others. Those “$5 words” tend to clutter the thought you want to come through … especially when the reader is unfamiliar with your terms.
Use simple short sentences that make single points. Wherever possible, avoid tying many ideas together with all those “and,” “but” and “alsos.”
Some Helpful Suggestions To Try …
The following is offered as one system by which note-taking can help the Recording Secretary do the job of assuring accurate minutes:
- A loose-leaf binder (with plenty of paper) should be used to take down the rough notes of the meeting.
- The notes should be made on ONE SIDE of the paper ONLY!
- Notes taken in previous meetings should be preserved in the binder for quick reference if needed at later meetings.
- A listing of old business referred to the current meeting (if any) should be listed at the top of the page for quick reference.
- As Recording Secretary, you should develop a “shorthand” of your own by which commonly used words or phrases can be abbreviated. “Moved and Supported” can be shortened to M/S, for example.