How to Run a Union Meeting

Rand Wilson
5 min readMay 12, 2021


(Excerpted from AFL-CIO Publication № 81, revised April 1976)

What Officers Can Do To Improve the Meeting
Start promptly! Establish the practice of starting on time. Give notice that the next meeting will begin promptly at 7 (or 8) o’clock. Then speak to some of the officers and members and get them to promise to be there at the appointed time. If this happens once or twice other members will get the idea and show up on time.

2. End on time! It is a good rule to keep the meeting down to one-and-a-half hours. There are many things that should be handled by committees-details that should not clutter up a union meeting.

3. Plan the meeting. Plan to have a lively, interesting highlight as the main event for each meeting. For example, election of delegates to the International Convention should offer an opportunity to review the achievements of the International Union. An International Representative might be specially invited. A quiz program about the services of the union, its officers and some of its history could be prepared and run by the Education Committee.

4. Streamline the meeting. The routine parts of the meeting can be streamlined. Make sure reports of committees and officers are prepared in advance and are well organized and brief. Correspondence should be handled efficiently. Only in rare circumstances should “new” correspondence he read to the membership. Some letters can he handled by the officers at executive meetings and detailed to appropriate committees for action or reply.

5. Keep the meeting moving along. If you’re the chairman and the membership is shy about making motions, don’t wait too long-simply say : “You have heard the report and the suggestion that this local should establish a special committee to work with the Mayor’s Committee for UN Day. Do I hear a motion?” Then, again, you may have a few people who will want to talk on and on. Learn how to cut them short. Sometimes even the chairman must he reminded that he is talking too much.

6. Consult the membership. Maybe the local should change the time or date of the meeting. It’s a good idea to let the members consider this from time to time. What was a good meeting night or time a year ago may be very bad now.

Similarly, ask the members from time to time what they want from the meetings. Group experience and interests change. If members don’t come out to meetings they must think that nothing is going to happen that will interest them.

Effective participation boils down to a question of Whose Union is It? Who decides what is important, the officers or the members?

Even routine matters handled by the Executive Board should be brought to the meeting in the form of minutes of the Executive Board — then, if the membership thinks that the Executive Board is deciding too many things they can say so.

What Members Can Do
The mainstay of the meeting is the responsible, reasonable, alert member. He has his rights, He and his fellow members in the union must make the final decisions. Good or bad, the final decisions rest with the membership.

1. Know something about the rules of the meeting.

2. Debate the issue, not the person who presents it.

3. Ask for information when in doubt.

4. Enter the debate when a point should be made.

5. Address the chair and get recognition before talking.

6. Talk briefly and not too frequently.

7. Assume a share of responsibility for action decided upon by the group.

8. Keep informed about the union.

Participation is the key to democratic procedure and a good union meeting. But this doesn’t mean that everyone must have his say on every issue. Meetings profit from listeners as well as speakers. If a member listens, weighs the facts and arguments, and votes, he is fulfilling his obligations as a member. And it is important that the listeners realize that they also are contributing to the meeting. The chairman should remember this, also. He should keep the speakers from rambling all over the lot and prevent a few speakers from dominating the debate.

In fact, a good listener can help here too. If a speaker is getting off the track, rise to a point of order and tactfully call the chairman’s attention to this problem.

If the listener does not understand something he can ask a question. Chances are a lot of others got lost at the same time and the question win help them. A good chairman will create the atmosphere to encourage members to participate constructively at meetings.


1. Has the Executive Committee met to plan the agenda?

2. Have the officers been contacted and general publicity about the meeting been handled?

3. Are the minutes of the previous meeting ready for presentation?

4. Is the correspondence ready for presentation?

5. Are committees prepared to report? (Do they know when and how much time they have been given to report?)

6. Has the Arrangements Committee prepared the meeting hall? (Check flag, heat, lights, ventilation, chairs, restrooms, ash trays, etc.)

7. Is all special equipment ready to use? (Blackboards, easels, movie projectors, record players, microphones, etc.)

8. Are program arrangements complete? (Have education films or pamphlets arrived?)

9. Are materials ready for distribution? (Agenda, financial reports, minutes of the last meeting, committee reports, newspapers, pamphlets, or handbills.)

10. Have arrangements been made for guests or special speakers? (Do they know when and where the meeting is being held? Do they know what you expect them to do?)



Rand Wilson

Rand Wilson works as a union organizer and labor educator. He is a political activist in Somerville, MA.