A lot of thought must be given toward planning interesting union meetings. Invite outside speakers, plan educational workshops, put together a strategic organizing plan. As more members get active in union programs and projects, the structure of the local meetings should change to reflect that increased involvement. While you’ll still need to conduct the normal, day-to-day business of the local, you should plan your meetings so they:
The way tables and chairs are arranged in the room will affect members’ willingness to participate in the discussion. Seats arranged in a circle or around tables in a U-shaped formation promote interaction and make the meeting seem less formal – everyone can see each other. Chairs arranged in straight rows, facing a podium, shift power to the people in front and make participation less likely.
It may be that a parent would be more likely to come to meetings if he or she could “bring the kids.” If this makes sense in your local, look into providing child care for the meeting. Try soliciting toys and books; see if someone – maybe a retiree – can be found to watch the children in a separate room while the meeting is being held.
One of the president’s main responsibilities is chairing the local meeting. A meeting’s business is conducted through the process of the membership recommending, discussion and deciding what action to take for each issue that’s presented. This is traditionally done by following a set of rules, called parliamentary procedure, which ensures that decisions are made in a orderly and democratic manner.
The foundation of parliamentary procedure rests on these four cornerstones of democracy:
Although it’s important, the ability to run an effective meeting requires more than knowing all the rules of parliamentary procedure. The skilled chairperson learns, through experience and by using good, old-fashioned common sense, how to apply those rules for the benefit of the membership.
Place a check in either “yes” or “no” column for each of the following questions:
|Is the program interesting to everyone?|
|Are efforts made to “do new things” or vary the agenda?|
|Is everyone encouraged to participate?|
|Are meetings short enough (two hours max)?|
|Do meetings start and end or time?|
|Are handouts and papers assembled and/or given out before the meeting officially starts?|
|Have the members ever been surveyed to find out the best meeting day and time?|
|Are short meetings every held after work?|
|Are special meetings called for really important matters?|
|Is the room/hall clean and uncluttered?|
|Room arranged for maximum participation?|
|Is it flexible?|
|Is the most important business first?|
|Is it reviewed, allowing members to add or subtract items?|
|Ever consider using different approaches (such as handouts, involving committee members) in giving reports?|
|Are members given the chance to ask questions?|
|Are members encouraged to ask questions?|
|Is the financial report copied and distributed?|
|Does the chair tolerate criticism?|
|Do you know how to lead a discussion?|
|Are silent members encouraged to participate?|
|Is parliamentary procedure used to eliminate (not cause) confusion?|
|Is the democratic right to be heard at the proper time preserved?|
|Are new members welcomed?|
|Are refreshments served?|
|Are there ever “family night” meetings?|
|Is child care provided?|
Any meeting – whether it’s a local, shop committee, organizing committee meeting, or any other – must be planned ahead of time and have a clear agenda.
The meeting agenda should be prepared and circulated three to five days in advance. If the agenda goes out too early, it may be forgotten or lost. If it goes out to late, members may not have time to make arrangements (like baby-sitting) allowing them to come.
The following ten easily understood rules will cover almost any situation that will come up at a local meeting.
The important thing to remember is that the purpose of having rules is to give everyone who wants to speak the opportunity to do so, while at the same time keeping the discussion orderly and well-organized. It’s a misuse of parliamentary procedure to use the rules to stifle discussion, or to put an end to legitimate debate.
The reason for having the meeting is not to enforce the rules; the purpose of the meeting is to accomplish the work of the union, as defined by the items listed on the agenda. Basic rules only serve to assist the chair in working through the agenda in an orderly manner.
Point of Information – If at any time during the meeting you are confused about the business being discussed, or you want the motion being considered to be more clearly explained, you may rise to ask the chair for a point of information.After being recognized, ask for the explanation you desire.
Simplified Chart of Parliamentary Motions
|5.||Postpone to a Certain Time||Yes||Yes||Majority|
|4.||Refer to a Committee||Yes||Yes||Majority|
|3.||Amend the Amendment||Yes||No||Majority|
|2.||Amend or Substitute||Yes||Yes||Majority|
|1.||Main Motion (Resolution)||Yes||Yes||Majority|
Motions Dealing with General Conduct of the Meeting
No Order of Precedence
|Point of Order||No||No||None|
|Appeal from the Decision of the Chair||Yes||No||Majority|
|Division of the House||No||No||Majority|
|Suspend the Rules||No||No||2/3|
|Divide a Motion||No||Yes||Majority|
|Withdrawn or Modify||No||No||Majority|
|Motion||Debatable||Amendable||Requires a Second||Vote||In order when another is speaking||Can be Reconsidered||Motions to which it applies||Motions which apply to it|
|Time for next meeting (when privileged)||No||Yes||Yes||Majority||No||No||None||Amend|
|Question of privilege (Treat as main motion)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Majority||Yes||Yes||None||All|
|Orders of the day||No||No||No||Majority||Yes||No||Any special order||None, except to postpone orders|
|Appeal||Yes||No||Yes||Majority||Yes||Yes||Any decision of the chair||Lay on table close debate reconsider|
|Point of order||No||No||No||None, unless appealed, then majority||Yes||No||Any motion or act||None|
|Objection to consideration of question||No||No||No||Majority||Yes||Yes||Main Questions, any question of privilege||Reconsider|
|Withdrawal of motion||No||No||No||Majority||No||Yes||Any motion||None|
|Suspension of rules||No||No||Yes||Majority||No||No||Any motion where needed||None|
|Lay on the table||No||No||Yes||Majority||No||No||Main questions, appeals, Question of privilege, reconsider||None|
|Previous Question (Close Debate)||No||No||Yes||Majority||No||Yes||Any debatable motion||Reconsider|
|Postpone to Indefinite Time||Yes||Yes||Yes||Majority||No||Yes||Main Motion, Question of Privilege||Amend, reconsider, limit or close debate|
|Refer to Committee||Yes||Yes||Yes||Majority||No||Yes||Main Motion, Question of Privilege||Amend, reconsider, limit or close debate|
|Amend||Yes||Yes||Yes||Majority||No||Yes||Main Motion, limit debate, refer, postpone fix time of next meeting||Amend, reconsider close debate|
|Postpone Indefinitely||Yes||No||Yes||Majority||No||Yes||Main Motion, question of privilege||Limit or close debate, reconsider|
|Reconsideration*||Yes, if motion to which it applies is debatable||No||Yes||Majority||Yes||No||Any motion except adjourn, suspend rules lay on table||Limit debate lay on table postpone definitely|
|Rescind*||Yes||Yes||Yes||Majority||No||Yes||Main motions, appeals, questions of privilege||All|
*These are treated as if they were main motions.
It’s the unusual union officer who isn’t called upon to give a speech at some point – this includes a talk you may need to give at your own local union meeting. If you haven’t done it before, rest assured that there are not all that many “natural-born-speakers” in the world – almost everyone has to work at it.
You will be wise to prepare your speech beforehand – very few speakers can do a decent job completely “off-the-cuff’ – but most of the experienced ones find it’s a mistake to write it all out and read it off word-for-word. It ends up sounding like you had someone write it for you. The best speeches are at least partly “unscripted” for one very basic reason. Very few people write and speak the same way, and fewer still write a speech “the way it should sound.” What’s written on the page is meant for the eyes; what’s spoken is meant for the ears – and how we do these two things is very different.
Write down your main points, and list the sub-points to make under each main point. If you’d like to use illustrations, or “stories,” put down a couple key words that will trigger your memory to recall what you’d like to say. Prepare your talk thoroughly, but make your notes in outline form only and let the words come as you go along. The amount of detail that’s necessary will come as you get experience.
For a beginner, it’s usually wise to do more work in preparing your speech than you might think necessary. One strategy is to locate yourself away from noise and distractions. Work through what you would like to say in your mind, and make an outline as you go along. When you’re finished, copy your rough outline onto a new sheet of paper, this time giving a rough version of the speech to yourself as you copy each point.
Finally, practice it! Give the speech at least once in its entirety out loud. It’s best to finish the speech a day before you’ll give it, review it before you go to sleep – and make no changes to it in the morning. Your subconscious mind will actually help “keep it in order” – as long as you’re not trying to make major changes up until the last minute. Have confidence. You’ll do fine.
Present your facts as simply as possible. A series of numbers, read off one after another, is hard to grasp – and an invitation for a houseful of glazed eyes. If it’s necessary to use figures, put them in the form of a chart, or use slides, or a blackboard, or any other viewable form to fix the general impression in their minds. You can use a handout, too – but give your audience time to grasp it. Use round numbers – they’re much easier to remember. (By the way: if you’re using handouts, its always better to pass them out before you start, thus avoiding a major distraction during your presentation.)
Four-bit words and a thundering voice may make you think you’re impressing your audience – but the point is to give a good speech. Oratory for its own sake is poison. Remember that while fist-shaking and floor-stamping are useful to impress audiences with your sincerity, a union audience is hard to fool. The object of a speech is not to see how loud you can shout, or how many “clever-tricks” you can pull with the words you use, but to inform the audience, to convince them of your point of view, and to get their approval of a plan of action.