The Role of a Modern Union and a Modern Union President
I define the role of a modern union in terms of structure - I believe how we are configured says a lot about who we are.
There are three basic models of how to structure a union: the service model, the organizing model, and the rank and
file model. I believe our union’s strength is in incorporating the best of each of these
approaches. An effective union president balances these roles in the best interests of our members.
A service model is based on having paid staff provide services including negotiating contracts, arbitrating grievances,
and assisting members with professional issues. Having the resources to hire people to focus on these highly
technical issues that have such a profound effect on our lives is a great benefit. This is where members
often look to see if they are getting a good value for their dues dollar. A good union gives their members
the peace of mind that when things get difficult and where their compensation is concerned; there are experts on their side.
A union that uses an organizing model focuses on assisting members to take action on issues of importance to them.
This is where we show that we are about more than grievances and picket lines. Though a union is
a great place to handle the difficult, confrontational aspects of our professional lives, it is also an effective way to create
positive change in our profession. We can provide the structure to help busy people take action to improve
their practice, educational public policy, their work environments, and their students' lives.
The rank and
file model is defined by members providing services and organizing support for each other. Few large organizations
can be run without paid staff, but keeping the focus on member decision making and activism is clearly the best route to a
strong, creative, responsive, relevant union. We have talented and effective staff at AHEM, which can be
both a blessing and a curse. We need to be vigilant that we don’t rely too heavily on paid staff
and allow our members’ activism skills to wither.
The president’s job is to manage each of these
roles. To provide quality service, she needs to be an aggressive advocate for members as a negotiator and
in grievances and disciplinary situations. She needs to be able to spot an organizing opportunity and take
advantage of it. Members’ voices and decisions need to be evident in every action the union takes.
A good president needs to be flexible and creative enough to respond to our changing times and to challenges
we haven’t even thought of yet. Most of all, she needs to understand her members’ needs and
be dedicated to meeting them. I would be honored to work toward this ideal as your president.