CONCERNED MEMBERS UNITED
Coalition of Concerned Members of NASW
Relevant Delegate Assembly/ NASW history leading up to current concerns.
Statement by Natalia Salinas, CA Chapter member
Prepared for April 8, 2016 membership meeting before it was cancelled by National.
At the formation of NASW the NASW Delegate Assembly (DA) was created as a democratic decision making body to ensure all Chapters had a voice and that there was a balance of power within the organization. For about 50 years this process allowed for engagement and critical thinking in what we knew as our membership driven organization. In the past 10 years, this structure has been significantly disrupted and we are demanding that the balance be restored.
The current restructuring of NASW under the guise of “Modernization” is a HUGE power shift. Our once membership driven organization will become one where a few individuals hold all the power and make all the decisions. Others can talk further about details of the plan, but after our coalition of concerned members, which includes many chapter leaders, reviewed the plan it was clear to us that we needed to sharply challenge some of the proposed changes as a threat to our democratic processes and the balance of power.
A major restructuring of the organization can only take place after a vote by the Delegate Assembly; however, there have been several key changes to the DA that have created a confusing, ineffective, fragmented, slow process. Reviewing this history is important to illustrate some errors that have led us to our current situation.
For about 25 years, the DA met every other year; however, in 1981 after concerns from SOME that the DA was too costly, meetings were reduced to every 3 years.
Reducing frequency of meetings negatively affected the work of the DA and was perhaps the first error.
In 2002, concerns about how much the DA meetings cost continued to be a concern for SOME and proposals for restructuring the DA were made. One of the proposals made and passed was for the National Board to become full delegates. The first DA they participated in was 2005.
The National Board formed a 25-member coalition, which was not the largest coalition, but was a very influential voting block. Their united voice and influence was used to share with all other delegates recommendations on how to vote saying things such as, “Your National Board recommends…” on various issues.
In retrospect some of us are concerned that the importance of the DA was minimized or dismissed, especially as plans for restructuring the DA and the entire organization were being developed since 2001. Also in retrospect some of us are concerned that cost of the DA was not the real issue as membership had grown 21,000 members to 145,000 while the size of the DA had virtually remained the same until adding 25 MORE delegates. Even if the cost of the DA was estimated as high as $1 million, this would have amounted to about $2 per member to keep the organization functioning effectively through the democratic DA process.
Allowing the National Board to become members of the DA body was perhaps the second error.
By the 2008 DA, the National Board made the unilateral decision to drop the in-person Assembly and move to a “virtual assembly.” It is our position that this unilateral decision was an abuse of power and violated our by-laws (Article VI-B), undercutting the authority of the DA to regulate its own process and beginning a domino effect that has ultimately changed the nature and structure of the organization.
While in other professions, face-to-face contact may be bypassed, social workers understand the importance of relationships and the importance of relationships as a vehicle for change. Prior to going virtual the DA process helped members sharpen their knowledge on current issues, deepened participants commitment to their organization, and stimulated debate to create the best possible policies and organization as a whole, leading to growing membership numbers.
Also in 2008, the EDs became delegates (the first DA they participated in was 2011) AND the most significant changes were proposed and approved by the DA. All bylaws amendment authority shifted from the DA to the National Board of Directors with the exception of the bylaws concerning the DA itself and the dues sharing formula between Chapters and National.
Many delegates serving during that time reported frustrations with the virtual process and also frustrations leading up to the 2008 DA including no longer being given access to all to names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail information to all other delegates as had been past practice. During the 2008 virtual meeting many reported being unclear on the issues and voting taking place. The inadequacies with the software selected by National NASW staff to conduct the meeting led to Robert’s Rules of Order not being followed and there did not seem to be a method to immediately address procedural concerns or make motions/amendments. During the 2008 DA delegates were reassured that improvements would be made to eliminate/reduce issues that occurred during this first virtual meeting (however, as of the 2014 DA this virtual process has remained full of glitches and ineffective), but more importantly all the huge changes that took place stayed.
By the 2011 DA 25 National Board Members and 52 EDs had been added as delegates. The “mega chapter” EDs quickly formed a closed and unannounced coalition where they developed a policy paper proposing dismantling the DA. Their background organizing was not clear leading up to the DA, but by the end of the 2011 DA a clear conflict of interest was identified. ED’s are responsible for training new delegates and information provided and withheld could only be noticed by few.
Allowing EDs into the DA was probably the biggest error and perhaps a mistake that was unintentionally made by the 2008 DA.
By the start of the 2014 DA the association had been divided into two points of view, those that wanted to do away with the DA and those that wanted to preserve the DA, but improve the process. Again, delegates were inadequately trained. Communication between delegates was nearly completely curtailed. Eventually the on-line site for delegates on policy committees to do their work was taken out of service due to lack of use by any of the 277 delegates. In addition, the much hyped about open to membership process only had a few dozen participants out of the then 145,000 NASW members. It was clear that the virtual process was completely ineffective for delegates to conduct the work they were elected by membership to conduct.
However, complaints by delegates seemed to go nowhere. The proposal to dismantle the DA was not passed by the 2014 DA. This was one small triumph for keeping our democratic process in place; however, soon after the 2014 DA, proposals by National for a major restructuring of the association being called “Modernization” began and parts of this restructuring have already taken place.
We as concerned members of NASW want and need your help to make sure membership’s power is not lost and that our association remains membership driven.
This statement will be available at concernedmembersunited.com and my email is nataliasalinas @ concernedmembersunited.com