In last month’s SMART Members’ Journal, I discussed the importance of transparency in our Union. Concern about transparency cuts across a wide spectrum of topics, including foreign affairs, the environment, information gathering, corporate actions, product safety, union operations, and more. The issue generally centers on what needs to be transparent and what does not. Transparency has benefits: we know what is being done, who is doing it, and why. But transparency can also have some drawbacks when something is very complex, requires a great deal of context, or exposes the who, what, or why that could put someone—or national security—in danger, or when transparency conflicts with our basic right to privacy. A lack of transparency has much more immediate negative implications: suspicions, rumors, leaks, and then once the secrecy is exposed, protests and demonstrations.
As stated, unions, too, must grapple with transparency concerns. Unions have not always valued transparency, and even today we can seem to be overly protective of information that members want—and have a right—to know. Your dues keep our international and your local union operational. Unions cannot afford to leave members in the dark. Doing so only feeds the negative stereotype of crooked union bosses which does not help attract new union members, make members feel welcome in their own Union or build a strong labor movement.
One of the most important transparency related actions we’ll take over the next year is publication of an interim SMART Constitution, to be in effect until SMART’s General Convention beginning August 11, 2014. The interim Constitution will be available soon on SMART’s website (smart-union.org) and in hard copy for reading at your local union office. The Constitution we adopt next year will be in effect until 2019. It’s important, therefore, for you to have the opportunity to offer amendments or resolutions to your local union leaders for consideration.
Now there were a lot of questions about the Constitution at the recent SMART Transportation Division’s Meeting in Boston, MA. I welcome questions and I need the feedback since it is you, the member for whom this Union exists. One of the questions raised was about accountability regarding the checks and balances with respect to the leadership of SMART.
A great question since your Union is governed not by me, but by our Constitution as acted upon by our General Executive Council (GEC) and carried out through SMART’s Local Unions across the continent. The GEC is made up of leaders with diverse backgrounds and experiences representing SMART members working in the range of industries within SMART’s jurisdiction. I sit on the General Executive Council along with General Secretary Treasurer Sellers, Transportation President Futhey, Assistant President/General Secretary and Treasurer Previsich, US National Legislative Director James Stem, Vice President/International Representatives Robert Kerley, David Wier and John Lesniewski. Our purpose, as well as the GEC’s goal, is to do what’s best for every member of every industry represented by this Union. Not only is that the General Executive Council’s goal, but part of their mission is to keep me straight in ensuring that this is achieved by serving as a voice for every member across every one of our represented industries. The GEC structures ensures that SMART is not, and never will be, a monarchy where the General President has absolute rule over Local Unions and members’ interests.
Accountability goes hand in hand with transparency. The union is accountable to our dues-paying members to provide representation and services to the best of our abilities. SMART will be transparent in all of its operations—sheet metal, air, rail, and transportation—and fully accountable for its actions. You may be assured of your General Executive Council’s dedication to those principles. However, if you ever feel we could improve in either transparency or accountability, please call, write, or send an e-mail to me at email@example.com. You can also visit our new website at smart-union.org for information.
The decision to move in the right direction with greater transparency and more accountability requires we all stay united, regardless of what we do. Our diversity in experience, work, and even where we live contributes to our strength as a Union. We must prepare for the next generation of union members and their leaders a new past that is prologue to a stronger and united future. I have no doubt we can navigate the challenges ahead.
Joseph J. Nigro
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