Standing Up for One's Membership Rights

Standing Up for One's Membership Rights
For more information about parliamentary procedure and Robert's Rules of Order, visit www.parlipro.org .

QUESTION:

I read your posts with great interest. You give me the hope that RONR will be able to solve my problems. However, the reality in my union is challenging my every hope. Will your optimism materialize for me? Is there hope for integrity in our meetings? What good can Robert's Rules be to remedy my situation? What good is a professional parliamentary opinion? Is there something that can be done to help me?

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ANSWER:

Robert's Rules essentially provides that majority rules, while at the same time protecting the rights of the minority, individual members, and absentees. With few exceptions, however, if two-thirds of the members at a meeting wish to do so, most rules of order can be suspended. Unanimous consent (without objection) works just as well as a two-thirds vote. The only rules that cannot be suspended are those rules that protect the basic rights of individual members, rules that embody fundamental principles of parliamentary law, and rules that protect the rights of absentee members. The fact is that you are in the minority, and so you really won't get very far at all until you can convince some of the absentee members to start attending meetings. It doesn't sound like that will really be an insurmountable task, as you say only 1% of the members attend meetings now. The way you keep those who attend meetings from taking action in the absence of a quorum is to make sure yourself that a quorum always attends. Any member has a right to call on the chair to enforce the regular rules, and a MAJORITY OF THE MEMBERS PRESENT are the ultimate decision makers on all Points of Order.

The absence of a quorum is one of the rules that protects absentees and is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law; therefore, this rule cannot be suspended. Its violation results in a "continuing breach" about which it is NEVER too late to raise a Point of Order (even months or years later). Violations of a quorum can put the actions of an organization forever in doubt, since any action so taken in the absence of a quorum is null and void. By the way, it only takes a MAJORITY vote to overturn a decision of the chair. The minimum essential officers to conduct a meeting is a chairman or pro tem chairman to preside, and a secretary or pro tem secretary to record what is done. Either of these can be temporary (pro tem) positions, elected at the meeting, to serve for the duration of a meeting or until the regular officer shows up.

Robert's Rules does say that in the case of AMBIGUITY it is up to each organization to interpret its own rules, by majority vote. A Point of Order that a custom is in conflict with a written rule is subject to a decision of the chair and, ultimately, to the decision of a MAJORITY of the assembly present and voting. If the majority do not feel as you do, then you may lose your Point of Order.

Robert's Rules only gives you the TOOLS but unless you can persuade a MAJORITY to see things as you do, then it will be impossible for you to force your view upon the other members through parliamentary procedure alone. Right now you are in the minority and, until you can command a majority to see things your way, you can only TRY to persuade others but you cannot force your will on them. That is how "majority rule" works. A professional parliamentary opinion from a nationally credentialed parliamentarian can help you to persuade others to your way of thinking but, as they say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." In addition, a professional parliamentary opinion may be persuasive and considered as expert witness testimony should this ultimately end up in the legal arena. When you can show that you have done everything within the rules and that a professionally credentialed parliamentarian agrees with you, you may be in a better position to pursue further action, either through the legal system or by appealing to a parent organization. Have you tried appealing this to the parent Union? It seems to me that a parent body would not be willing to allow a constituent body to blatantly and flagrantly violate membership rights.

It is a fact that nonmembers can be excluded from meetings, including a nonmember parliamentarian. By majority vote the members at a meeting can allow or prohibit nonmembers from attending. If you can get a half dozen or so members to attend who see things your way, then you will have a better chance at having things go your way.

The 99% of the members who don't attend really have nobody to blame but themselves. If they are willing to let others make decisions for them, then it is their right to abstain. Freedom of speech is one of the most powerful rights we have, and so you should try to convince those who don't attend why they should. They may not understand what is going on. While those hard-liners at your meetings may not want to listen to the opinion of a professionally credentialed parliamentarian, perhaps there are more reasonable members who can be convinced to stand up for their rights.