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Basic Tips on Running a Union Meeting

Basic Tips on Running a Union Meeting

Ralph and the other officers of the Union were trying to figure out why fewer and fewer members came to the regular monthly meetings. Ralph was saying, "I asked Rachel why she doesn't come to meetings any more. You know what she said? 'It takes forever for anything to get decided. Last month's meeting went on for 3 hours. Everybody was talking about different things, so nothing ever got settled on. There's got to be a better way to run a meeting.'" Sarah said, "You know, there's that part of the Leadership Guide that talks about Robert's Rules of Order. It's supposed to be how to run orderly meetings. Maybe we should read up on it."

Over at UE Local 958 the officers were talking about a similar problem. Simone, the Chief Steward was relating her conversation with some of the workers in her department. "Everyone says they won't come to meetings because George and his buddies keep interrupting everyone and they only want to talk about their problems. Whenever someone tries to talk they make noises and rude comments. Sally said she's not going to give up her time to listen to jerks."

Except for contract time, it's tough these days to get members to meetings. Everybody in the family is working, kids need to be picked up or driven places, or there's the other part-time job to get to. This makes it even more important to make Union meetings interesting, orderly, and concise.

UE, like many Unions, throughout the years developed a standard agenda for Union meetings.

UE, like most membership organizations, has adopted "Roberts Rules of Order," a set of rules on how to run a fair and orderly meeting.

UE has also recognized that meeting rules have to be flexible and the agenda adaptable to the situation in order to keep the members coming to meetings.

The Basics to
Robert's Rules and Orders

Why have rules? The basic idea for having rules is so that business that must be taken care of is done in a democratic and orderly manner. By following Robert's Rules of Order, everyone gets to have their say, without anyone dominating the meeting. There is a procedure to ensure that questions can be handled in a democratic manner, but if people start to repeat themselves, any member can make a motion to end debate and "call the question." The Chairperson's job is to balance keeping things moving while allowing full discussion.

People only speak after they are recognized by the Chairperson. Only one person at a time speaks.

People must stick to the issue that is being discussed. If the discussion is on whether to arbitrate a grievance, then Joe can be ruled out of order if he starts talking about when the Negotiating Committee should be elected. (This should be done diplomatically though.)

  • The motion - A motion is made by raising your hand to get recognized by the Chairperson. After being recognized, rise and say, "I move that we hold a special Union meeting if the management tries to implement mandatory overtime." A motion asks the group to take action; to send a letter; spend money to arbitrate a case; send delegates to the UE Convention.
  • Second to a motion - A person different from the maker of a motion must second the motion. No discussion can take place without a motion being seconded. If there is no second, the motion "dies for lack of a second" and the Chairperson moves on to the next order of business. If there is a second to a motion, then the Chair opens the floor for discussion.
  • Amendment to a motion - An amendment to a motion is made in the same way as a motion. Amendments must be friendly to the original motion, that means they basically agree with the motion but want to add some clarification to the original motion. " I move to amend the motion on the special Union meeting to state that we hold the meeting within 2 days after management tells someone they must work overtime." An amendment to a motion must also be seconded. When it comes time to vote, the amendment to a motion is voted on first, then a vote is taken on the original motion.
  • Speaking on a Motion or Amendment - As stated before, one person at a time speaks after being recognized by the Chairperson. Once a motion is on the floor the only discussion allowed is on the motion or the amendment. The Chairperson can set time limits on how long people may speak or may call for a motion to end debate if the same people keep repeating themselves.
  • Ending Debate - A motion to end debate means that people want to vote on the issue. Once someone makes a motion to end debate and it is seconded, then a vote is immediately taken on ending debate, without any debate. A motion to end debate must pass by two-thirds of the people voting.
  • A motion to table - This means postponing the discussion until a later date, usually the next meeting. This motion is also not debatable and only needs a majority vote to pass.

There is a more detailed explanation of Roberts Rules of Order in the UE Leadership Guide, in Section 6.

First let's look at the traditional Union meeting agenda:

  • Call to Order – The Chairperson of the meeting "Calls the meeting to order" to start the meeting. (Note: meetings should start on time!)
  • Roll Call of Officers – The Secretary calls off each name and keeps a record of the Union Officers present.
  • Reading of Minutes of Last Meeting – The Secretary reads the minutes, that is, what happened at the last Union meeting. If there was unfinished business, that gets listed under the "unfinished business" part of the current agenda.
  • Reading of Correspondence – Any letters the Union receives are read to the members. If action is required, the Union Executive Board will have a recommendation as to what to do. The members vote on their recommendation.
  • Financial & Other Reports – The Financial Secretary should give a complete report on the dues taken in and how money was spent in detail. There may be other reports, such as a report on a District Council meeting, or a political action report.
  • Chief Stewards Report – The Chief Steward should give a report on grievances and what happened to them. If there are any arbitrations to vote on, it should happen here.
  • Unfinished Business – This is business left over from other meetings.
  • New Business – Any business that requires Union membership approval should be taken up here.
  • Good & Welfare – Any ideas for improving the Union can be discussed during this time.

Tips on running the meeting

The agenda does not necessarily have to be in the above order. If there is a really pressing issue it may be better to take up that item at the very beginning of the meeting, rather then make everybody wait until the "new business" point comes around. This often makes people edgy, especially new people who have come to their first meeting to discuss a problem.

It is extremely important that the financial report be given at every meeting, and this isn't one of the items that is dropped because of pressing business.

A meeting can be smoothly run without the Chairperson announcing, "We are going to follow Roberts Rules of Order." Most members won't know what this means. Instead the Chairperson can announce some simple rules for running the meeting.

  • One person will speak at a time. No vulgarities or name calling is allowed.
  • If you want to speak please raise your hand and I will call on you.
  • No repeat speakers until everyone has had a chance to speak.
  • Speakers must stick to the subject. If you want to talk about something different, please wait until the first issue is dealt with.
  • If the members have to make a decision, then there will be a vote on that issue. Once the vote is taken we will move onto the next issue.

If someone is being obnoxious and disrupting the meeting they can be asked to leave. The Chairperson can take a vote asking the disrupter to be quiet or leave the meeting. This way the disruptive person knows that it is the members that disapprove of his/her behavior, not just the Chairperson.

If it appears that there is not much business to be done at a meeting, think about inviting in a speaker to briefly address an issue, like workers compensation or some pending legislation that the members should know about. Another possibility is showing a labor video. Many videos are available on loan from the UE National Office and are listed in the Resource Guide and on the UE Website under Resources.