Running a Meeting

Planning and Running a Local Union Meeting

“If anyone denies American workers their constitutional right to freedom of association, we will use old-fashioned mass demonstrations, as well as sophisticated corporate campaigns to make worker rights the civil rights issues of the 1990s. We’re going to spend whatever it takes, work as hard as it takes, and stick with it as long as it takes, to help American workers win the right to speak for themselves in strong unions!”
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, October 26, 1995

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:

  • Involve the rank-and-file as much as possible.
  • Give everyone the opportunity to express their opinions.
  • Include important decisions. Try to arrange meetings so that at least one important issue gets decided every time. Let people know ahead of time what issues are going to be discussed, and urge members to attend.
  • Provide information. If members see their local union meeting as a place to gain important information, they will be more likely to attend. Make sure stewards tell people what happened at the meeting instead of scolding them for not attending. This can generate curiosity and a desire to find out more – to become involved.
  • Reserve a part of each meeting for something interesting – such as a training session on subjects like a current “hot” political topic, health and safety, or organizing. Occasionally arrange for a guest speaker or show a video.
  • Keep meetings short and to the point. The longer meetings run, the harder it is to hold people’s attention. You may have to experiment with different strategies to make sure that all of the local’s business gets taken care of while still keeping the membership interested.

Setting Up the Room:

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.

Child Care:

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.

Chairing the Meeting:

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:

  • During the meeting, every member has the same rights – and responsibilities – as every other member.
  • Only one question is considered at a time – this avoids confusion.
  • The majority rules – always.
  • Individual members have rights that the majority cannot take away – namely, the right to be heard, no matter how unpopular the opinion may be.

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.

  • Start on time.
  • Introduce officers and others.
  • Stick to the agenda.
  • Know when and how to move the agenda. On the one hand, members should be allowed to talk long enough to make sure all objections and ideas have been heard. On the other, letting the discussion ramble on indefinitely can result in a meeting that seems like endless torture. Learning how and when to “move the agenda” is a real skill to develop.Don’t forget that the action of a meeting is carried forward by a motion and a vote (either up or down).
  • Chair It, Don’t Dominate It – The chair may have to offer his/her own ideas to keep discussion going. Sometimes the chair should sum up previous discussion to clarify the issues. Otherwise the chair should not dominate the discussion or overuse their authority.
  • Be Flexible – Most IUE locals accept “Robert’s Rules of Order” as the authority on fine points of procedure. While the purpose of a meeting is to handle business effectively, don’t go overboard on bypassing standard “Roberts Rules” … or go overboard on using them, either. Experiment to find what works best in your local.
  • Review and end on time – If the agenda hasn’t been completed by the time the meeting is scheduled to end, ask the members if they want to add a specific amount of time (fifteen minutes … half an hour), or if they would prefer holding the items that are left until the next meeting.
General Issues Yes No
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?
Officers’ Reports
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?
Handling Discussions
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 items you’ve answered with a “no” should be thought about carefully. Are these invitations for members not to attend?
“Unless man is committed to the belief that all of mankind are his brothers, then he labors in vain and hypocritically in the vineyard of equality.”
Adam Clayton Powell, Keep the Faith, Baby!, 1967

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.

Traditional Agenda items

  1. Call to Order:
    • Rap your Gavel.
    • State: The meeting will now come to order.
  2. Adoption of Agenda:
    • In many locals, the agenda is copied and distributed.
    • In others, the Chair reads the agenda.
    • In either case, the Chair then calls for a motion to adopt the agenda.
  3. Roll Call:
    • The Secretary calls the roll of officers.
  4. Reading of Minutes:
    • The Chair calls upon the secretary to read the minutes of the last meeting.
    • After these are read, the Chair states: “Are there any additions to the minutes? (Pause) If not, the minutes will stand as read.”
    • If there are corrections or additions to the minutes, the Chair should ask for unanimous consent to these.
  5. Reading of Correspondence:
    • The Chair calls upon the Secretary to read the correspondence. NOTE: Long detailed letters should be summarized by the Secretary.
    • Routing letters and ads should not be taken up at this-meeting.
    • Letters requiring action by the membership should be handled by the Executive Board prior to the regular meeting.
    • At the regular meeting these letters should be read along with recommendations of the Executive Board.
  6. President’s Report:
    • This will include action taken by the Executive Board problems facing the Local: what are the priorities and what action the local should take.
    • Chair then calls for motion to accept the report.
  7. Financial Report:
    • The Secretary-Treasurer (or Treasurer) gives the financial report.
    • In many locals this report is copied and distributed at the meeting.
    • The Chair asks if there are any questions. Then, if there are no questions, the Chair states that the financial report will stand approved.
  8. Other Reports:
    • The Chair will call for reports from Committees.
    • The President should review the Committees’ report with the Committee Chair prior to the local meeting.
    • At the end of a Committee report, which do not contain specific recommendations for membership action, the President asks for a motion to accept the report.
    • If there are specific recommendations, then the Chair repeats the recommendation and asks for a motion from the membership on each recommendation.
  9. Unfinished Business:
    • This includes any items left over or referred from a previous meeting requiring membership action.
    • The Chair asks if there is any unfinished business; and where necessary calls for a motion from the floor dealing with the specific item.
  10. New Business:
    • This includes items raised at the meeting or raised for this meeting which require membership action.
    • The Chair asks “Is there any new business?”
    • This may also be followed by a motion from the floor dealing with the specific item of new business.
  11. Good and Welfare:
    • This part of the meeting gives the members a chance to discuss the general welfare of the union.
  12. Adjournment:
    • The Chair asks “Do I hear a motion to adjourn?”
“Join the union, girls, and together say Equal Pay for Equal Work.”
Susan B. Anthony, The Revolution (women suffrage newspaper) March 18, 1869

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.

  1. The Motion – A motion is made by raising your hand to get the chair’s attention. After being recognized, rise and say, “Brother/Sister, I move that we…,” and state the motion.A motion asks the group to take an action: to send a letter, to instruct a local bargaining committee, to accept a report, to hold a special meeting, to spend money for some special purpose, etc.
  2. A Second to a Motion – No motion can be discussed or voted on without a second to the motion being made. Without a second, a motion will be dismissed by the chair.
  3. An Amendment – An amendment is offered in the same way as a motion. Offer an amendment when you agree substantially with the motion that has been made, but want to make a “friendly” change before it is adopted. An amendment can not be in direct opposition to the original motion.For example, a motion has been made to hold a special local union meeting, but no date have been specified. You want to be sure the meeting will be held at a time when all the members can attend. You can amend the motion by saying: “I move to amend the motion to state that the special meeting will be held two weeks from next Monday at 7:30 p.m. If seconded, the amendment must be voted on separately and prior to the vote on the original motion.
  4. Amending an Amendment – An amendment can be amended in the same way you amend a motion. A motion to amend an amendment must relate to the subject of the amendment made to the original motion. A substitute motionis sometimes used to save time when there is a motion and two amendments on the floor. If there is no substantial disagreement with the he motion and the two amendments, a substitute motion incorporating all three points into one new motion may be offered from the floor and accepted by the chair.NOTE: If someone disagrees with a motion or an amendment, it is out of order to attempt to change the sense of the motion by amending it (e.g. a motion to hold a special meeting can’t be amended to not have a special meeting). The person in opposition to the motion must speak against the motion or amendment, and urge the membership to vote against it. If the motion or amendment is defeated, a new motion calling for a different action can then be made and considered at that time.
  5. Speaking on a Motion or an Amendment – When you want to speak at a meeting, raise your hand asking the chair for the floor. As soon as you are recognized by the chair you may proceed to speak either for or against the motion or amendment being considered.Within such time limits as may be established, you can speak for or against the motion. You may speak on a motion or an amendment only after it has been offered and accepted by the chair and has been seconded.The chair should make clear that this is the time for discussion and encourage it.
  6. Ending Debate – When a motion, or an amendment, has been discussed long enough, debate may be stopped by bringing the question to a vote. This is done by getting recognition and saying, “I move the previous question.” If the motion receives a second, the chair must call for a vote on that motion without debate. If two-thirds (2/3) of those voting vote “aye” the chair must call for a vote on the question pending without further debate.If an amendment is the pending question and you want to vote on the main motion you must say: “I move the previous question on all pending questions.“
  7. A Motion to Table – To postpone or end debate on an issue, a motion can be made to table the discussion (that is, postpone discussion on an issue until a later and perhaps, more appropriate time). Such a motion is not debatable and if it is seconded, it must be put to an immediate vote by the chair.
  8. 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.

  9. Simplified Chart of Parliamentary Motions

    Motion Debatable Amendable Vote
    8. Adjourn No No Majority
    7. Recess No Yes Majority
    6. Close Debate No No 2/3
    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
    Reconsider Yes No Majority
    Rescind Yes No Majority

    Motions Dealing with General Conduct of the Meeting

    No Order of Precedence

    Point of Order No No None
    Parliamentary Inquiry 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
  10. Point of Order – If there is a disagreement with a ruling by the chair, or if a member speaking is not talking about the business being considered, you may raise a point of order and state your objection to the chair. The chair is then required to rule one way or another on the point of order.
  11. Appealing a Ruling by the Chair – If there is a disagreement with a ruling by the chair on a point of order, an “appeal from the decision of the chair” can be made. After such an appeal is raised, it must be supported by at least one additional member. During consideration of the appeal, the chairperson must turn the chair over to the next highest ranking officer.
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
Adjourn No No Yes Majority No No None None
Recess No Yes Yes Majority No No None None
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
Main Motion Yes Yes Yes Majority No Yes None All
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.

Making Speeches

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.

Outline Only

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.

Use Facts Wisely

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.)

Orator or Speaker?

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.