Tonight SEA members will take part in a meeting from a remote site, as a test run of a draft policy to increase participation in committee meetings, Council meetings, and in tonight’s case, Bargaining Senate meetings.
In addition to hosting the Bargaining Senate at the main site – 29 Hazen Drive in Concord – there will also be a satellite site at White Mountains Community College in Berlin. That will allow members in that area to gather in a common location for the meeting via videoconference.
Getting to this point has been easier said than done. For years, the SEA has worked to integrate new technology to make participating in meetings easier. For example, members can currently connect to meetings by phone or videoconference, but there was no policy in place to officially allow them to participate.
Eric Ferren, the chair of the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, said members were increasingly asking President Rich Gulla about participating in meetings remotely. “Rich approached the committee about developing an official policy,” Ferren said.
The committee’s first move, Ferren said, was to see what other unions were doing, but that didn’t prove fruitful.
“We couldn’t find any local unions that have a policy for us to follow,” Ferren said. “We even approached the SEIU about theirs, only to discover they didn’t have a policy either.”
So the committee had to start at square one, drafting a policy from scratch. That hasn’t occurred without roadblocks along the way.
“The biggest difficulty in developing the policy was how to handle elections at multiple sites and still follow the Department of Labor’s requirements for our elections,” Ferren said. “We approached the Department of Labor several times, but ultimately received no guidance.”
Eventually, the Department of Labor suggested that the SEA develop a policy, which the department would later review. The committee researched software that would allow people to vote online, but the cost of the software was prohibitive. As such, the voting part of the equation remains unresolved.
Committee member Avis Crane stressed that the goal was to approach this incrementally, and that this is just one step in the process.
“Because it is a policy rather than a Constitutional change, there is nothing to prevent us from continuing to work on changing or improving the policy,” Crane said. “Having a few tests of virtual meetings will help those of us who have little experience with it to understand the process better.”
If you live in the Berlin area and want to take part in tonight’s Bargaining Senate meeting, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.