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Union Matters: A Conversation about Convention Resolutions

In this Episode, host Deedee Slye talks to President Jason MacLean; Chair of the Resolutions Committee, Paul Hagan; and Chair of the Constitution and By-Laws Committee, Colin Sutton, about resolutions. They share their favorite resolutions, current deadlines and announce their resolution writing provincial tour. These resolution experts are where it’s at! Whereas resolutions set the direction of the union for the next three years; and whereas they are an important part of our democratic process; therefore be it resolved that you listen in. Happy resolution writing!!

See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:


Welcome to our Union Matters podcast series. I’m your host Deedee Slye and today we’re talking about Resolutions. Not New Year’s Resolutions, not personal resolutions, but resolutions about collective action. What our members would like the union to do. We’re going to be talk today with President Jason MacLean, who has had some experience with resolutions and some experience with constitutional amendments, along with the Chair of the Resolutions Committee, Paul Hagen, and the Chair of the Constitution and By-Laws Committee, Colin Sutton. First, Jason, you had mentioned there would be a tour coming up. Will you tell us about that?

 

JM Actually, this term we’re taking a different approach at resolutions. In past years we’ve had people show up with resolutions at convention, with some really good ideas, but, those ideas end up getting shut down because they weren’t written properly or there was a mistake in the resolution or whatever, so we’re trying to be a bit more proactive. We’ve always done resolution writing workshops, but this time we’re trying to bring it into each region of Nova Scotia, so we have 8 regions in NSGEU and we’re going to go out to each region and put on a Resolutions Writing Workshop for people that have some ideas, that want to bring these ideas to convention.

 

DS When does the tour start?

 

PH On Monday, January 7 we’re in Cumberland Colchester. We’ll be at the NSGEU Truro Office at 120 Esplanade Street at 6:00 pm. From there our next date is Thursday, January 10th. We’ll be in the Valley at the Waterville Fire Hall at 7:00 pm. Then we move on to Sunday, January 13th at 1:00 pm we’re down at the South Shore at the NSGEU Yarmouth Office, 59 Hawthorne St. Then we’re back in Metro, we’ll be here Monday, January 14th at 7:00 pm right here at the NSGEU Office in Dartmouth. That’s a combination of all metro regions: A, B, & C. Then we’re on to Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough on Tuesday, January 15th at 7:00 pm at the North Nova Educational Centre. And last, but not least, we’re going up to Cape Breton on Sunday, January 20th at 1:00 pm at the NSGEU Sydney Office, 850 Grand Lake Road.

 

DS Resolutions have this power. Why are they important to the union?

 

JM Well, let’s talk about what a resolution is. It’s a mechanism for a member to bring an idea forward that will set the direction of the NSGEU for the next three years or beyond. It could be ideas such as to give support from NSGEU to a certain cause, or to join other labour groups in denouncing something the government is doing. Or it could be something like having NSGEU do something for the membership that is different than they’ve been doing in the past, like for instance, the last convention we had a resolution that spoke to what is the role of the NSGEU in accommodating members that have disabilities. What that did was create a disabilities committee that will be reporting back at this next convention. That sets ideas on what is the union’s responsibility. It also sets policy within the union. Everything that comes to convention sets the pace on what the NSGEU is and what it’s going to be doing.

 

DS When is our convention?

 

JM Our convention is May 8th to the 11th.

 

DS Resolutions are kind of hard for people to wrap their heads around, there seems to be an issue.

 

JM Yeah, there is an issue. Over the years we’ve had people having problems putting their idea on paper, and that’s the reason why these guys are going out, and thank you very much, Paul and Colin, for going out and doing this. There’s two type of resolutions: there are general resolutions, which are about any type of idea, and then there’s constitutional amendments, which are resolutions that effect the constitution, which could be the make up of a local or what a member is or what dues are being paid. That’s stuff within the constitution and they’re two distinctly different types of resolutions. General resolutions could be any idea, but a constitutional amendment must be specific and it has to be covered properly.

 

DS Can anybody submit a resolution?

 

JM Any member that has an idea for resolution can bring it forward to their local meeting. Their local would vote if they want to bring this idea forward. If they do vote in favour it would have to be a majority vote of those who attended the meeting. Then the local will put it into resolution format and submit it to NSGEU Office.

 

DS Resolution format, Colin. What’s that?

 

CS Resolution format follows a very precise formula we’ve laid out. It has to be that way because we need to know why we’re voting on things. We put it in such a way that we’re emphasizing clarity of the idea. It begins with a statement of an issue that you want the NSGEU to vote on. Then it’s followed up by several Whereases. The Whereases (as we call them) are the reasons for the resolution. Following the Whereases you come to the conclusion with “Therefore be it resolved that” and then you have the resolution of exactly what we’re voting on. The preamble before it is all the reason why a person would want to vote for it. The “Therefore be it resolved that” gives the resolution the meat of what we’re voting on. It sums up everything that was said in the preamble before it. The committee makes a recommendation of concurrence or non-concurrence: whether you should vote for or against this resolution. That motion of concurrence or non-concurrence is voted on (it’s a little complicated and difficult to understand at first, but we have an orientation meeting at convention for first timers to get past when you’re voting and what you’re voting on).

 

JM The committee’s not looking at these resolutions and saying “Oh, that’s a good idea, I think we’ll go with it!” They’re looking at the working. They’re looking at what ramifications there are of the wording and how it goes. There’s a difference between “shall” and “will.” There’s a difference between “lobbying” the government or “telling” the government or any other organization what to do, because we don’t control any other organization. But, we can ask them what to do or ask them to team up with us, but we can’t make it happen. Somebody could say something as easy as “The NSGEU and the Federation of labour should team up and open up a brand new labour temple where all labour organizations can meet.” Well, that’s fine to put that in, it’s a great thought, but we can’t compel the NSFL to do that, therefore it would be looked at as being out of order because we should say, “The NSGEU should lobby the NSFL to do this with them.” and that we can follow through one. It’s the difference in wording.

 

PH There were so many resolutions in the past that never made it to the floor because they were not properly written or properly worded and didn’t address the exact issue involved, so that’s why we want to go out on this tour. Talk to people. I’m old school as far as learning goes. I like to talk to somebody about an issue. The presentation on the Internet are quite good, but if they didn’t address a specific topic I was looking at for a resolution, what would I do, I’d be guessing, so now we’re going to be at these places across the province so, come on out, meet us, talk to us, bounce ideas off us. We’ll give you the boundaries you may be looking at and maybe what wording you should be addressing.

 

CS But the key to really writing a good resolution is going to be clarity. We need to make sure that the intent of the resolution is clear. As long as that intent is clear we can work with the language of it, change the language where it doesn’t fit the intent. There are some steps we can take to tidy up a resolution. So, concerns about the actual language used can be mitigated just by writing in simple language just to make sure the intent is clear. One thing we’ve discovered from the last convention was when an intent wasn’t clear or when something in the resolution conflicted with the intent and it had to be ruled out of order because of that, we could see, kind of, the idea that the person was bringing forward, but it wasn’t clear enough for us to be able to recommend it, so it ends up being ruled out of order. That ends up being a very frustrating procedure for the members of the committee, because they don’t want to see these ideas die on the vine, but also for the members who submit these ideas because they see their ideas being killed on what amounts to a technicality, or what they perceive as a technicality. With these sessions, we want to help the members help up do a better job of representing them.

 

JM The committee chair’s role right now is to get the ideas rolling, get people to start thinking about convention. This is the time to get it in. The timelines are here.

 

DS What’s the deadline?

 

JM The deadline is 60 days prior to convention, so it would be March 8th. It’s January right now. People need time to get their ideas, put them down. Local meetings don’t happen every day, so get out to your next local meeting and start talking about it. We need resolutions! And, this is very exciting to me: I really enjoy resolutions! Not everybody does. Maybe I’m just a union nerd. This is what democracy is all about. This is where it comes from.

 

DS Now, if I had an idea for a resolution and I wrote that idea and took it to my local meeting and they didn’t like it, could I still submit it in some way? Could I still get it from the floor? Could I bring it on a sign? What could I do at the convention with my idea if it doesn’t pass through my local?

 

JM Well, there’s two sets of time lines. There’s a time line for general resolutions and constitutional amendments to come in from locals. That is 60 days prior to convention. But, also, the Board of Directors have 30 days before convention, so if your local didn’t take it up you could still lobby your board member in your region or the board member that represents your occupation and you could lobby them to bring it to the board of directors for consideration. That could happen as well. But, if it doesn’t make it through those two avenues and it’s not something that is new information or a new idea that just came up after the deadline (I’ll explain that in a moment) then you won’t get an opportunity to speak about that idea because nobody took it up with you. Your local didn’t submit it and the board of directors didn’t submit it and those are the two different bodies that can submit resolutions. You also have extraordinary resolutions. Something that comes us. For example: if, after March 8th (local deadline) or after the board of directors deadline (which is the end of march this year when the board of directors is meeting), let’s say there’s another strike at Canada Post and somebody wanted us to show solidarity to Canada Post and boycott a newspaper or something like that or never to use UPS or something like that (we never use a non-unionized type right now) but let’s just say and idea came out of that strike that somebody wanted NSGEU to take on, then that would be an order to take it forward because it has to do with that certain thing that came to light after the deadline. That would be an extraordinary resolution. But if it’s something that was an idea back in January or an idea last year and it wasn’t brought forward and it’s not new news or it’s not something that’s new to our information, then it’s not something that would be take up by convention or accepted at convention. That extraordinary resolution (or potential one) would have to be submitted to the resolutions committee and they would judge if it would go to the floor or not. And they would also recommend if it’s accepted or rejected. Ultimately the debate would happen on the floor of convention and it would be accepted or rejected by the convention delegates.

 

DS Paul, do you have any particular resolution that have made a difference or inspired you?

 

PH My local was quite surprised last convention. We have a component within central Civil Service Professional that, frankly, French language was quite important, so people proposed French language requirement in regards to treatment of locals and EROs. It was proposed. It didn’t pass, but over the past three years the Executive and the Board of Directors recognized [the importance] of that. The Ste. Anne local had French language negotiations and also the town hall was all in French. That sort of surprised me that even if the proposal or resolution doesn’t get passed t can have an effect on this union, because this union listens. It was a failure, but it sparked and idea within NSGEU and it’s grown from there. We mentioned it at our last local meeting and we’re quite proud of that fact.

 

DS It is interesting that you can bring something forward and it can fail, but you can still succeed.

 

JM My favourite resolution is one…I’ve been involved with NSGEU on the board level since 2003. I was elected as a regional board member out of Cape Breton region. One thing that kept coming to every regional meeting was to get an office in Sydney. Every time I came [to the board] with my report I came with a recommendation that we open an office in Sydney. Every board meeting it was voted down. The next term I ended up on the Executive of NSGEU and the person that replace me was Gary smith, and he kept bringing it forward to the board because that’s the direction he got from the Cape Breton region. That wasn’t successful at the board level, but what happened over that term (2005-2007) was a resolution that originated from Cape Breton region to have a storefront office (actually called a satellite office at the time), but it didn’t just come from the Cape Breton region, it came from every region. So a lobby happened at the board of directors and other regions we saying, yeah, we would like to have one, so locals in each region brought in a resolution to where it was decided by the board of directors ended up putting in a resolution to have a trial period for two offices: one in Yarmouth and one in Sydney. Those other locals, because that was being done, withdrew their resolutions. It’s my favourite resolution that we got those done because those offices have been a success. We have an office in Truro now. Provincially, because I’m not from Metro, and, this is no dig on people from Metro, but sometimes things get swallowed up in the Metro area, and people on the outside of Metro feel left out of the mix. I think it’s very important we have those offices and that we have that reach across the province. That is my favourite one because that showed me how democratic this union is, because when the members say that’s gotta happen, it’s gonna happen.

 

DS Do you have a favourite one, Colin?

 

CS The Constitution and By-Laws Committee from last convention, we only had so many ones to deal with. We do our work on the first night of convention. We had about 12 or 14 amendments submitted to the committee of which only 4 we voted on the floor. One that really stands out in my mind was an amendment that came forward to change the language of the constitution and by-laws of the NSGEU to include transgendered people in language about discrimination and harassment. That was a landmark change for the constitution and the NSGEU. It was a recognition of our members as well. It was put forward by our members and was voted on by the members at convention and it was voted on with tremendous support at convention. That one felt pretty good.

 

DS There’s a lot of mental health resolutions and campaigns to support mental health as well.

 

CS Absolutely

 

JM There was stuff around bully-free. We’ve done a lot of stuff that helped make the workplaces better, safer. But we still have a lot of work to do. That’s why we constantly have conventions. This is where the ideas come that set the direction for NSGEU.

 

DS It’s really exciting. Are you excited, Paul?

 

PH Very much so, yes. I’m looking forward to meeting some members I haven’t met before and also looking forward to convention, discussing the various issues that are important to our members and to discuss them – for and against. It’s good debate. We have opposing sides and we discuss the issue. The floor gets and opportunity to vote and we move on to the next one. We discuss it at night as far as on the socials and we sort of come out of that as a group and we vote on our new executive. I think it’s a well rounded convention. if we can keep the resolutions and by-laws going smoothly and set for everybody to debate and not worry about semantics, it seems to be a good time and that’s what we want to make sure it is this time, with a lot more ideas and discussion amongst our members. Sometimes would get to know the member across the hall because they have a certain idea and you never thought about that idea before and it now sparks an idea in your head and maybe you want to talk to that person after the resolution for further debate or learn what their side is and you get to know them. That’s happened over the numerous conventions that I’ve been on and it’s one thing as a proud NSGEU member that we forget to mention when we come out of convention and looking for the government and their various fights and other issue we have to deal with. Those things are all tracked. They’re assigned to the executive to track and at all the board meetings we have this Tracker’s Report and we have all these resolutions and they’re assigned to committees, Political Action, the Youth Committee, the Disabilities Committee, and they’re to deal with them. That’s what on their plate come September when they have the new committees.

 

DS I wonder if our listeners would be curious about what kinds of resolutions – you can have resolutions that support organizations, like Feed Nova Scotia…

 

JM We had a resolution 2.5 years ago that spoke to charities we were going to donate to. It was $42,500.00, each year of the three years after convention. It set out each organization that we were going to do. The board has learned this term because one of those organizations no longer exists. So that’s funds we couldn’t give last year to another organization because it was already dictated where it needed to go through convention. The resolution needs to change in the wording to where we have x amount of dollars we will donate and we can create a committee of the board of directors or something of that nature together to speak of each year where it’s going to go to. Because and organization could go away. If we have that money earmarked to be donated, it should go to a worthy cause. It shouldn’t not be used, because we can’t use it. We want to get a little less restrictive than we’ve been.

 

CS There’s another type of resolutions as well, one that I’ve been personally involved in carrying out since last convention. There were two resolutions that came forward at last convention that dealt with raising education and awareness of the discrimination and harassment that people with disabilities face in the workforce. The other was about aiding the NSGEU in building some policy in how requests for accommodation come forward for doing union business, just putting framework around something like that. So the two resolutions created the ad hoc Disabilities Committee. We’ve been doing the work since the last convention of trying to get the lay of the land and assessing the issues that our members with disabilities are dealing with in the workplace. There have been some really interesting spin offs coming out of that. We’ve had recommendations forward to the executive right now that are being considered. We’re hopeful they will come through at our next board meeting. I’m really look forward to the report from the committee at the next convention because we’ve not only been able to put together a policy piece for the NSGEU that assists them in assisting our members with disabilities, but also on the education piece as we now have a bursary that is guaranteed to be awarded to a person with a disability in the NSGEU. Education is a big aspect as we discovered in the committees research. Stats Canada has some very strong stats that state that the level of education that a worker gets directly impacts the amount of harassment and discrimination they receive in the work place, being that the more education a person gets, the less discrimination and harassment they will see. The committee saw that as an opportunity to make sure that one of the bursaries we give out goes to a member with a disability or is a dependent of a member with a disability.

 

JM That came from convention. It’s really important to mention convention is the supreme governing body of NSGEU. It happens every three years. At that convention resolutions come forward that sets the direction of NSGEU. Also what happens is the executive committee and the president is elected. They carry out that work in between board meetings. The Board of Directors will be assembled shortly after convention. They’ll meet every six weeks throughout the three year (with the exception of the summer months), which means six times a year. Also, in between that the executive committee’s doing the work and in between that the president’s doing the work. So, all the work that gets done is from what happens there {at convention]. There might be some things like campaigns or something – you’re going to see very soon a campaign for social workers that we teamed up with the College of Social Workers. That is going to happen and that came from the Board of Directors to do. That wasn’t part of last convention, so that stuff still happens. But the core work that must be completed before that next convention is the work that’s set to be done at the last convention. Colin’s committee [Disabilities Committee] carried out their duties and that committee is proud of the work they did. It’s testimonial that convention creates what NSGEU is going to be and where the policies will go in the future.

 

DS So if you can’t make it to a workshop but you’d still like some help. What do you do?

 

CS There is the web site. We have resources available that guide you through the process of writing a resolutions, give you some tips on what to do and what not to do. That information has been updated for this year, for this convention.

 

DS Could they call the Labour Resource Centre. Could they call the NSGEU?

 

JM If somebody couldn’t print off the information there [on the website] or they need somebody to talk to they should call the Labour Resource Centre. They should ask who the board member is in their region. They should ask, if they don’t know, who their local executive is. We can hook them up to talk to those people and give them their contact information. All those people are the people they could reach out to.

 

DS That is awesome! Thank you Jason, Paul, Colin, for being with us today and taking the time to talk to us about resolutions. They’re so much more exciting now! Thank you for listening. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Union Matters and that you feel ready to start writing some resolutions yourself, and if you don’t that you’ll make it to one of the workshops happening regionally across the province. Have a great week. We look forward to sharing some time with you again soon.

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