Continuing with my theme of the gulf that often exists between the executive and rank and file members of organizations, I would like in a moment to discuss a personal experience that illustrates this problem. First, however, I should emphasize my belief that it is not enough to provide good service to the members; if the organization is to truly thrive, it must always have an eye toward the future, when a new generation will have to assume the executive positions. In my view, the only way to do that is to make the members feel welcome, to take seriously their suggestions and input, and to continuously demonstrate to them the importance of the organization. Unfortunately, often the ensconced upper echelon pays little heed to the membership, assuming that securing a reasonable contract is all that anyone expects, along with good representation in grievance matters.
A few years back, at the local Annual General Meeting, we had a large turnout of young teachers. Unfortunately, I suspect they left singularly unimpressed by the proceedings. The constitution is such that one can only ask questions of the executive that pertain to the various tabled reports included in the program. For example, any questions to the Vice President had to pertain to his report. Many people were turned away at the microphones because their questions were broader in nature. Later I proposed an amendment so that a fixed time could be allotted for more general questions. The former President, a retired teacher who continues to work under term contracts, spoke against the motion, and voting was postponed until after our dinner, by which time many of the young ones had left. My proposal was defeated, but as I made clear to the executive, I thought that they had squandered a real opportunity to get the newer teachers more involved in the Federation by making them feel valued for their input.
Near the end of my career, I took it upon myself to send out a survey to a large number of teachers with the board, trying to ascertain the things that they liked about how the local was operating, and areas where they thought things might be improved upon. Within two days, the President and Chief Negotiator paid me a visit, wanting to know why I was doing this, what I was upset about. I tried to explain that even though I had very much appreciated the support I had received during a grievance, I felt that more outreach was needed in order to involve people more and to demonstrate the vital nature of the Federation. Needless to say, the meeting did not go well, as we wound up shouting at each other, etc. I maintain to this day, as I told them, that they take everything too personally, and should welcome the activism of people outside the inner circle.
In my next post, I’ll offer a few suggestions as to how greater member involvement might be achieved.