Posted on Jan 10, 2008
John M Grau
I remember hearing a story about how one of my predecessors, Lawrence Davis, took an extended trip by railroad in the 1930’s to some of NECA’s west coast chapters. It was a major excursion, and it took him three or four weeks to visit a half-dozen chapters. I don’t know if he ever did it again, but if he did, it wasn’t until several years later.
Today, I’m able to travel to dozens of meetings across the country and around the world. I spend hours, not days, getting to where I’m going, and I rack up nearly 100,000 air miles every year in the process. However, I’m only able to personally visit a handful of chapters. The travel logistics may be easier today than they were in the 1930’s, but conflicts and time constraints make it impossible for me to make a personal visit to each of our 120 chapters, let alone meet several thousand NECA members.
But just as technology helped us overcome the time and distance barriers to travel, it’s helped us stay in touch. Over the past few months, we have been conducting an experiment in communications. NECA President Milner Irvin and I have had telephone conference calls with several different NECA chapters’ boards of directors. The idea is to use technology to approximate an experience we can’t do physically. (Ideally, we would visit each chapter for an extended face-to-face discussion about industry issues and their local concerns.)
In 2007, we held 25 chapter board conference calls. The results have been very encouraging.
During the typical 45-minute conference, we take some time to let the local chapter learn about the work we’re doing on the national level. The chapter then tells us about their key issues and projects. We leave plenty of time for questions, comments, and open discussion. Most of all, we listen.
Both Milner and I agree that we’ve learned a lot from these sessions. While there is much in common between members and chapters across the U.S., there are also significant differences. Most often, those differences can be seen in the priorities each chapter places on various issues. For some, open portability of manpower is crucial; for others, it is less so.
The kind of relationship the chapter has with their local union leadership is another key factor. If the relationship is good, then the chapter leaders are optimistic about the future of the industry. If the relationship is poor, then almost any solution seems unattainable.
Our “listening tour” continues this year with a goal of eventually meeting with every chapter board who wants a dialogue with us.
I keep thinking back to Larry Davis’s chapter tour in the 1930’s. Without a cell phone and emails on a PDA, what do you suppose he did on the train all day?