Coalition of Concerned Members and Concerned Chapter Presidents
Statement made by Chris Hudson, President Massachusetts Chapter

Prepared for April 8, 2016 membership meeting before it was cancelled by National.

Welcome: We would like to welcome everyone here, and say that many of us very much appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting. Thus, we would like to thank President Wheeler and the NASW staff for making the arrangements for this meeting; our many colleagues among the Concerned Chapter Presidents, and especially, over six hundred concerned NASW members who signed the petition that called for this Special Membership meeting. We would like to be as brief as possible, so as to leave plenty of time for comments from all of you. 

Background: In case you are not familiar with the Modernization Initiative, this is a massive reorganization of NASW that has been developed by several national task forces over the last 3 to 4 years. In a nutshell, it essentially aims to nationalize the 55 chapters, consolidating them into NASW’s national administrative structure by reassigning all chapter staff to National; rewriting the governing documents for the Chapters such that their Boards will now function as advisory rather than governing boards; transferring many administrative functions to the National; standardizing many other functions; and reallocating funds to the National office to pay for their new administrative responsibilities.  It also reduces the size of the National Board. 

After extensive planning, last June the National Board decided to proceed with the Modernization recommendations, and devote this year to planning its implementation, to begin this July. This meeting, thus, comes at a critical junction since later this month and in the June meeting, the National Board will finalize and adopt the implementation plans, to go into effect beginning in July. 

Beginning in Fall of 2014, when the initial recommendations were distributed to presidents and executive directors, many of us were very disappointed, not only by the content of the recommendations, but by the review process employed. At the same time that the plan emphasized “members first”, yet members were systematically excluded from its review, we believe, because the plan is meant to reinforce a top-down hierarchical approach to NASW that will minimize a democratic and chapter-based approach to decision making. Although, the plan was designed to be a “Members First” initiative, it was only presidents and executive directors who were initially allowed to see the plan. Once the Board made the decision last June to adopt the recommendations, a Coalition of Concerned Presidents was formed with the goal of redressing the perceived problems of the Plan. Its first task was to mobilize the support among members to organize this meeting to reconsider the plan, and fortunately, we found more than sufficient support to call for this Special Membership meeting, which may be a first for NASW.

We have had a variety of other concerns about the wisdom of proceeding with this plan, which we will briefly review:

Hierarchical top-down organizational designs, if they can be justified at all, generally are just used when those who are on the front line have a low level of education and professionalism, are involved in highly standardized tasks, and are unmotivated to participate in control of their work environment.

In contrast, NASW members are highly educated and professional, and are closest to the service environments in the various chapters that require planning, thus, if anything, we should be thinking about increasing their input and chapter autonomy rather than diminishing it. The entire field of management research and theory has increasingly come to support such an approach for professionals.

By increasing the responsibility and autonomy of the chapters, we will increase their ability to individualize services and local advocacy efforts to the various chapter environments.

 We expect that such diversity of responsibility will also enhance the cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity of our membership, which we believe will further flounder under the standardized direction of a national administrative structure.

To secure the many administrative approvals needed from National under the new plan, it is expected that local administration will become considerably more bureaucratic and slower in its ability to respond and adapt to new needs, and just to get things done.

By separating programmatic input, which is what local chapter boards would be restricted to, from fiscal and personnel oversight, which is being transferred to National, we believe that this will effectively fragment the fiscal and personnel implementation of NASW policies from programmatic considerations. Too often when such models are used, program plans amount to empty rhetoric, while the important decisions are made by fiscal managers, divorced from the realities of professional practice.

In general, we believe that the Modernization of NASW will set the Association back to a very traditional top-down corporate model, reminiscent of how many organizations were operated prior to NASW’s founding in 1955. What we need instead is a post-modern plan, one that encourages multiple perspectives and power sharing, incorporating the best that broad, diverse, and multiple constituencies of professional social workers can offer.

While there are many other critiques that have been persuasively advanced for the various features of Modernization that might be mentioned, I would like to acknowledge that I believe that we are all in agreement that many of the administrative arrangements that Chapters have can certainly benefit from some degree of updating, such as better fiscal procedures and the like. However, the fundamental organizational arrangements envisioned, we believe are fatally flawed, and will result in progressive marginalization and continued loss of members from NASW.

Our Request:For this reason, we are respectfully asking each member of the National Board to vote to postpone implementation until the plan can be revised and reconsidered by the appropriate parties and the mandated oversight body. 

According to NASW’s Bylaws, the National Board’s focus of its duties is on operational matters, and that any general guiding policies of NASW need to be considered, in the end, by the Delegate Assembly.This Assembly was designed by the founders of NASW to be the voice of the membership, with its elected 200 delegates who are entrusted to consider and act on the most important guiding policies of NASW. Despite this clear mandate in our Bylaws, the National Board sought to eliminate the Delegate Assembly in 2014, but fortunately, members such as yourselves did the responsible thing and voted to retain this Assembly. Now, given these massive changes that have been proposed, it is incumbent that the National Board not overreach its authority, and respect the prerogatives of the Delegate Assembly to consider this matter.It would not only be irresponsible, but we believe, even illegal for this matter not to be referred to the Delegate Assembly, unless of course, the Board decides to revamp the plan.

Thus, if the Board does not decide on his own to revamp the plan and/or to refer the matter to the Delegate Assembly for their review, and we assume it would be of a revised plan that would address the concerns of the members here, we anticipate submitting a formal petition of at least 500 members to bring this about, including changes in NASW Bylaws to prevent this from happening in the future. It is clear also, from our review of relevant corporate laws, and in consultation with our legal counsel, that the members, through the Delegate Assembly, have the right not only to act on the Modernization proposal, but also, to revise NASW Bylaws to assure that the most efficacious balance between the responsibilities of the Chapters and National, as well as prerogatives of members in NASW operations, are fully respected and memorialized in the guiding Bylaws of our association. Thus, we ask your support in requesting a full review of these matters by the National Board.

2016 - 2018