Union Matters: All you wanted to know about Convention but were afraid to ask
On this week’s episode of Union Matters, Host Deedee Slye, spends time with President MacLean and Convention professionals and staff members Diane Briggs and Lisa Bouchard. Includes deadlines, tips and information that will help you understand what Convention is all about.
See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:
Today we’re going to be talking about Convention 2019, which is coming up in May. What are the dates, Diane?
DB May 8th to the 11th
DS It’s pretty exciting. Today we have Diane Briggs, who is the Convention Coordinator, also our systems manager — what is your official title, Diane?
DB Office Systems Coordinator.
DS There we go — Office Systems Coordinator here at the NSGEU, but she also is the Convention Coordinator and she has been doing so for…
DB This will be my 12th convention as coordinator, but it’ll be my 15th overall.
DS I think we call her a professional convention coordinator! We’re also joined here by President MacLean, who became President at the last convention in 2016, but how many conventions have you gone to?
JM Oh my, I’ve been to conventions since 2005.
DS That’s a good number. And where here with Lisa Bouchard. How many years have you been going to conventions Lisa?
LB A long, long time. I don’t even know exactly how long.
DS She’s Jason’s executive secretary, she’s executive secretary to the president and so these are professionals. We are with the people who know everything there is to know about convention from the inside and out today.
JM Yes, Deedee, we are. You and I are with the two professionals that know it all.
DS Absolutely! So convention happens in May every three years. This is a triennial convention. At the convention the delegates set the direction for the Union. They are the supreme decision making body of the NSGEU. And that’s kind of weird for people I think in some ways they think it’s the executive or the board that makes decisions. Butt actually they are the ones that carry out the will of the convention delegates in between conventions. So convention is pretty important. Diane can you tell me about how convention might have changed? What was your first one like and what is it like now?
DB Gosh, the first one I was one of the recording secretaries and just the sheer size of convention I think maybe that 125 to 150 delegates. Maybe total attendance was 200 and this convention coming we’re looking at voting delegates around 350 and total attendance between 400 and 450. So the sheer size, the technology of course has changed. How we present during convention. The topics, you know, what’s important to the members has changed over the years. Overall they have the same vibe, you know. It’s quite an experience to be there. You get to meet members from all different locals doing different careers and it’s very informative. It can be overwhelming to delegates but exciting at the same time.
DS Cool. Do you remember what your first convention was like, Jason, as a delegate? Do you remember when you were elected, why you went, why you decided to go?
JM Starting right off I didn’t know the significance of convention. I was told about it, I heard about it, but it just doesn’t strike you until you’re there. It is the supreme governing body, it is the group that sets the direction for NSGEU for the next three years or beyond the three years. My first time there I wasn’t elected as a delegate of my local, but I was elected through regional council as a board member. The Board of Directors has a right to go to convention, so when I went there was a two years lead-in coming to the Board of Directors where I was learning the significance of it, but didn’t really totally grasp it until then. And at that convention I ran for 3rd Vice-President, so that was a blur to me. I was elected to 3rd Vice-President but I was on pins and needles the entire time. I took it in, but I took it in on a high anxiety level. It was a lot of fun, it was a lot of work. Just to speak about the issues that our members really cared about, and to try and usher some things through that we felt that NSGEU should be taking on.
DS Do you remember any of the issues that grabbed you that time?
JM I do believe at that time we were talking about issues that revolved around satellite offices. That was one of the issues, a contentious issue. It was something that was at conventions prior to that and it wasn’t successful getting through, to get an office in Sydney, or to get an office in another part of the province. It wasn’t until a couple conventions later that it was actually successful. We can talk about that a little bit about how it was successful because I just found it fascinating on the will of the members, how it gets things done.
DS Lisa, what is convention like for you? What do you do? How do you see convention?
LB I did remember now that my first convention was 1993. It was at that point at the Holiday Inn in Dartmouth. Obviously it’s grown significantly over the years. I had been on staff a few years before going, so I didn’t feel like I was being thrown into it like some people were, you know, you come to work and within a few months you’re in convention deadlines. To me convention is a place where everybody comes together. It’s kind of like a hone coming. Everybody comes back to talk again about the issues that they dealt with over the last three years and how to move forward and how to become even more progressive and make even bigger decisions. The governments have certainly not been favourable the last number of years. At the time when I was first going to convention, we were on top. People were getting raises and people were moving forward. Now, people are trying to protect what they have, which is very scary. Convention is a really great place for people to talk about like things, feel empowered. The video that gets played over the last three years from the president’s reports really pump people up. I just brings out something in people they may not have known they had. That’s how I see it.
DS What is your role? What do you do? How do they see you?
LB They would see me sitting there with a computer taking minutes of the proceedings of the convention. And constantly have to remind people to say who they are. Because in years gone by, truth be known, you knew everyone. It was a much smaller group. Now, with people retiring and the movement toward early retirement and the changes in the membership geographic is amazing. Young people are coming up, the older folk that are seasoned and veterans are leaving. The new people have to pick up the ball and run with it.
JM Our last few conventions have been at least 50% new delegates.
DS If you’re not a delegate and you want to be a delegate, do you have to know things to be a delegate, or what’s there for you if you’re brand new?
JM Starting right off, what we’re doing is in January we’re coming with a town hall to talk to all the leadership in all the locals. We’ll give them all the information leading into convention and what’s going on with convention, but also what we’re going to do this term is we’re going to offer resolution writing workshop where people can ask questions about convention and how resolutions make change within NSGEU. We’re going to have that in each region in the province in January. Also, before anybody gets to the floor in convention we’ll have a new delegate workshop and we will give all the ins and outs of convention to all the new delegates that are there. One thing is to show up, but one thing that’s very important is to be informed on the issues. Or you become informed on the issues. What we want to do is give everybody the tools to be able to go to a mike, speak for or against something, just to really show what NSGEU is about, because we are a democratic organization and it all starts at our convention.
DS To me, the democracy at the heart of unions is infectious, and I hope it continues to be infectious for our whole society. If you teach people how democracy works and how they can participate more, that can spiral into their families and who they talk to. There’s this real effect on democracy generally.
JM I don’t think there’s been a local I haven’t had an opportunity to visit that I keep saying “I don’t want you to think that the NSGEU is this office in Dartmouth. NSGEU is you.” It’s the members and what we say, goes.
LB One fun thing I noticed is that during convention, people are shocked when they’re a new delegate and they get up to speak and they say hi, my name is so and so and I’m from local such and such and I’m a first time delegate, and everyone claps. There’s this feeling of I belong and I can speak and I won’t be judged. What I say matters.
DB What I think and what I say matters.
LB And it goes right to the point of every person’s message matters.
DS And that’s really empowering. So how do you get to be a local delegate, Diane?
DB Delegates are elected at a special or regular meeting by the local. You have to be a member in good standing, you have to have signed a membership card. You have to have attended at least 40% of your local meetings in order to qualify. Then you have to be nominated and then an election held at the local. Then the results determine the delegates. On January 8th we do a count of the membership for each local. It’s signed members only. Based on those numbers we have a table we use to figure the delegate entitlement. That’s how you get the number per local. One local may have 22 delegates based on size, one local may have 2. Most locals have 2 delegates. Your alternates are also elected there. So if you can’t attend convention your alternate can go in your place.
DS One question that somebody said to me when I asked them what would they like to know if they were a delegate would be: what would they need to do? Delegates may feel they have to book their own hotel rooms, maybe it’ll cost them something, what do they need to bring, like their own computers maybe. Could you talk a little bit about what a delegate needs to do?
DB They need to show up and be present. Once they’re elected as a delegate we do online application forms this year. So they can go in and fill out their application form. On the form we ask them what their accommodation requirements are. Every voting delegate, whether they live across the street from the convention centre or in Cape Breton is entitled to a hotel room free of charge. So, on the application for they fill out their accommodation and they tell us what time off they need and we apply for their time off to attend. There’s information of the application form for what qualifies for time off, if they need travel time, etc. We’ll also ask them if they have any allergies or disabilities we need to be aware of so that we can make sure the facility accommodates them as well as the hotel. They don’t need to bring computers or tablets. We will be providing a wifi access during the entire convention so they can use tablets or computers. We will be providing all the documents for convention online on the website so they can download them. We will be providing printed documents when they register. They have both. It will be up to them whether they take a printed copy or just use the electronic version. They will be responsible for charging and maintaining their own equipment. We can’t provide all that. Otherwise we look after anything. Any questions they have they can contact myself at head office, or they can contact Sarah Covey, who is coordinator in training because I’m not going to be here forever. She’s doing a great job and she know the answer to pretty much everything as well.
DS Excellent. Jason, why is being a delegate a big deal? Why is that important?
JM To simplify, look what’s happened with the McNeil Liberal government in the last few years. We’ve come out with campaigns. We’ve come out with direction on how to take things on in bargaining — we’ve had resolutions speak to that. What happens is, a resolution will come to the floor, somebody will look at that resolution, read the rationale, and then go to the mike and articulate how if effects them and how they are either for it or against it and how they would like NSGEU to take it on or it’s something that’s not a priority. Everybody has a right to get to the mike and speak on it. Ultimately everybody votes on it. Obviously majority rules, but if it’s something that is voted for NSGEU to take on, then it becomes a core function that we’re going to do to satisfy that resolution and get that work done. But if the members feel it’s not that important, it will get put away for another time. It’ll come back again, but it’s the members, the delegates that are there that make the decision on where we’re going to go.
DS That’s awesome. How about committees and councils, Lisa. Will every committee that NSGEU has and every council, will they be reporting?
LB All the NSGEU Provincial Committees, which are committees of the Board of Directors do provide a written report to convention. Those are submitted in advance and the Board of Directors gets an opportunity to review them before they go convention. Basically the chair keeps control of things in terms of setting an agenda to know which committee is next. Often time the resolutions are grouped in with like committees. If there’s human rights issues, the Human Rights Committee will report first and then those human rights resolutions will be dealt with. The chair is fundamentally the person that takes on that role to make sure everybody’s in the right place at the right time and knows what they’re going to do. The councils don’t report, Regional and Occupational Councils do not report, it’s just the Provincial Committees. If there are ad hoc committees, such as the Young Workers, they would have to get permission from the Board of Directors to go to convention to present a report.
DB Also, committee members can attend convention as a committee observer, although many committee members get elected as delegates, especially if they’re from a smaller local. We will contact those committee members who have not been elected as delegates to see if they want to come to convention as a committee observer. Committee observers can’t vote on any resolutions, they can speak to their committee report, and they will be on stage when the committee gives its report. We will be in touch with those committee members who haven’t been elected as delegates following the 70 day deadline for election of delegates. So they can come to convention that way.
DS So there’s going to be, like you said, Jason, there’s going to be some people who are just going to come who aren’t elected as delegates but end up there. Some people will know what they’re in for, other people won’t, but there’s a lot of support. I know that from being there myself people find support and inspiration there. They leave very hyped up, ready to take on social justice issues, make the world a better place, improve conditions for working people, and make the world better. It’s a really inspiring thing, convention. I think some people, I’m not sure what people know about convention and who is elected at convention. You’d think the entire board is elected at convention. I know there’s some confusion around that. Can you tell us, Jason, about who’s elected and how elections work?
JM Not the entire board is elected at convention, but the executive committee of the union is elected. The executive committee of the union is: President, 1st Vice-President, 2nd Vice-President, 3rd Vice-President, and Secretary-Treasurer. Those elections start on Saturday. Any delegate that is at convention can run for any of those positions from the floor. Any voting delegate can run for a position. Some people gear up quite soon, which is why we’re doing these podcasts and getting the information out. People that want to run for positions, they need to get ready and get their information out and run for positions. We do have policies on when you’re going to run for these positions, but, it’s the convention that’s going to elect these individuals that are going to carry out the direction that the convention has given for the next three years, with the assistance of the Board of Directors, of course. But the president does the day-to-day work of the union. The executive does pretty much the day-to-day work of the union and the Board of Directors they do a lot of the work of the union as well. Board of Directors meetings as held about every 6 weeks. They have 6 meetings per year. They’re very important roles. Also we have the appeals committee elected there as well. The roles that come out of convention are very important and have to be adhered to. They are all mentioned within out constitution and they are part of the governing of NSGEU.
DS If someone wants to run for an executive positions, do they have to decide that now?
DB They don’t have to, they can run right off the floor if they want. But if they identify early they can go through a process of mail outs and information based on our nomination receiving committee policies.
DS I guess I should have asked, if somebody wants to declare they’re going to run, what are their deadlines and what should they do?
DB First they have to be elected as a delegate. If they’re elected as an alternate they don’t attend convention unless they’re replacing a delegate, so they have to be elected as a delegate. And then elections for delegates has to be completed 70 days prior to convention, which is Wednesday, February 27th. After that date you can declare if you want to run for an executive position. There is a form which will be available online that says “My intent to seek nomination.” They have to be nominated by another delegate in order to be considered to run. Once they fill out that form and they send it in, we have elected a Nominations Receiving Committee, Jason I can’t remember who’s on it. Once they do that we have a cut off date of March 8, 2019. We will arrange for you to come in and have a photo taken if you don’t have one yourself. You can prepare a statement of no more than 600 words and that statement will be posted in the Union Stand, the pre-convention issue of the Union Stand. On March 18th we provide you with a list of the elected delegates so you may contact them if you wish to tell them what your platform is and why you should be elected to the executive. You’ll also have an opportunity to have a one-page leaflet mailed to all delegates. We will provide you with a two-sided copy of a brochure at convention that you can hand out to members.
LB It’s probably important to note that staff are not allowed to be involved in the process of -politics. Oftentimes over my 30 years here I’ve been asked so many time “What do you think about this person that’s running, what do you think about that person that’s running?” That’s not up to me to say. I think everybody is running for the right reason and whoever gets elected, gets elected. People assume that we can talk about it and we’re not supposed to.
JM That’s a great point, Lisa. We have policies that say how our elections are going to go down at convention. That’s why having this podcast is very important, because some people think it’s all secret and it’s locked away. No, this is open. What we want to do is have the best people in place to make the best decisions in between conventions. That’s why convention would make the decisions. That’s why I think it’s very important to say to anyone listening here, reach out to your local executive. Find out when the election meeting is going to be. If a local doesn’t do their elections, they won’t be represented at convention, and that’s a tragedy, to have a local not represented at convention.
LB It has happened.
JM I think we had 4 locals last convention that weren’t represented.
DS Make sure you ask the questions. Don’t be shy. You can call us, too, at the Union office and we can help answer any questions you have as well.
DB All policies concerning convention will be posted on the web site, so they can find all the information they need there.
DS There is an issue, I remember people talking about: language, I don’t understand the language. There is a kind of a language around unions, whether it’s rules of order language, or constitution language — there’s a language issue, so there will be a learning curve, but it’s worth learning. The process that are in place, the language helps to clarify and give everybody a voice that’s equal, and that’s important.
JM If anybody has any generic questions about elections happen or how convention happens, feel free to reach out to myself, Diane, or Lisa. We’ll be able to give you the information or we’ll be able to send you the documents. The role of the staff and the executive is to help members get the information they need. So that’s what we’re going to do: provide what we can.
DS Does anybody have a favourite thing, a story, a favourite moment, a favourite thing they want to say about convention?
LB There’s so many, it’s hard to pick one. One of my favourite things is to watch people walk in a room and you can tell that they’re intimidated, they’re afraid, they’re nervous, they’re apprehensive, and someone, whether it be the person that sits next to them or during a coffee break they’ll say get up to the mike and speak, you’ll be welcomed. All of a sudden, the person that was so shy walking in the room is now at the podium, at the mike, speaking on an issue. Sometimes they’re there more than once! You see their inner strength, and I think a lot of people use their union activity as a means to empower themselves. It really comes out in full play at convention. During convention you can cry, you can laugh, you can smile, you can be angry. Every emotion tends to play out. But at the end of the day everyone walks out united and sings “Solidarity Forever.”
JM I guess coming out of Corrections, I like rules. I like to see how things play out, because I love to see debate. So when these resolutions come out, not everybody knows there’s two different type of resolutions. There’s general resolutions and then there’s constitutional amendments. I’m really intrigued by how the conversation actually goes from each. When we start on Wednesday night we do constitutional amendments. And constitutional amendments, just by constitution, are so rigid. So it has to be succinct. The debate does happen, but it’s really fascinating on what changes in the constitution some locals may want and some people may want and the debate that comes from it. But the general resolutions, it could be from anywhere. It could be “Change NSGEU’s colour from gold and blue to purple.” It could be “We want NSGEU to start putting a commercial on every month on one of the networks.” It could be anything. Just to see where the minds of our members are and the direction the union could go and could envision more, it gets the creative juices flowing for members on what we can do as a union and where we can go as a union. That is something that’s the favourite part for me.
DB For me, being on the administrative end of it all, it’s meeting the people I’ve talked to on the phone. I talk to so many of the delegates. It’s nice to put a face to a name. When they’re coming to register, it’s really great to meet the people and to see the difference in them when they leave convention from when they arrived. Like Lisa said earlier, you’re pretty pumped when you leave convention. You’re ready to take on the world. It’s really fun to see that.
DS Thank you Diane, Lisa, Jason for your time today. Thank you for listening to this holiday episode of Union Matters. For those listeners who are curious about resolutions, we’re going to have a podcast coming up about resolutions and constitutional amendments, because those are exciting! Well, they’ll make them exciting, with the heads of the committees and Jason. So, tune in, spread the word, and listen to us on Soundcloud, iTunes, what for our notices on Facebook and the website nsgeu.ca. Thank you!
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