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A Guide to General Membership Meetings & Robert’s Rules of Order

General Membership Meetings are the heart of democratic unionism. They give rank and file members the opportunity to participate in governing the union.  Ideally, they should be used to provide members with a path to determine the policies and decisions of the local.


Our Bylaws:

The Executive Committee must hold two General Membership Meetings (GMMs) each semester, announced at least two weeks in advance (Bylaws Article 6.1).  GMMs follow Robert’s Rules of Order (RONR 12th ed, 2020) (Bylaws Article 7).

The purpose of using Robert’s Rules is to insure an equitable, transparent and effective process through which decisions are made with the participation of the membership. This includes preparing and bringing motions, engaging in constructive debate, and voting on proposals.  


The President of the Union chairs General Membership Meetings (Bylaws Article 1.1).  To conduct business at a GMM, there must be a quorum present.  Because quorum is not defined in our bylaws, we must default to the quorum defined by Robert’s Rules.  Quorum in Robert’s Rules is defined as a majority of the membership (RONR 3:3-3:5).   Without a quorum, meetings are limited to announcements, socializing, and reports – but no proposals can be voted on.


For our upcoming meeting, because quorum is unlikely to be attained, we will bring proposals based on decisions the Executive Committee has already made, and ask those present to debate and affirm or not affirm those proposals.  We are doing it this way because we think it will provide rank and file members a way to evaluate the decisions and policies of the Executive Committee. It will also provide a structured and deliberate way for all of us to practice participating in union decision-making. 


Other union’s bylaws typically specify that a quorum is a majority of the people who are present at the meeting.  This is something we should consider doing in our upcoming bylaws reform.

General Membership Meeting Agendas:

 Robert’s Rules provides the following template for GMM agendas (31:16)

(1) Greeting

(2) Adoption of the agenda

  • The agenda is organized by the President or Secretary

  • Any member can add items to the agenda by emailing the Executive Committee in advance or by bringing a motion during “new business”

  • Any changes to the agenda must be adopted by majority vote; and, the agenda in sum must be adopted by majority vote

(3) Reading of the minutes

  • Minutes need not be read aloud, so long as they are circulated in advance

  • Minutes must be adopted by a majority vote

          (4) Report of the Treasurer, Officers, and Committees

  • The chair will call on specific individuals to deliver their reports

  • Some Reports must be accepted by the majority of members present

  • Members can ask questions about the report.

(5) Unfinished Business

(6) New Business

(7) Closing


Motions, Debate, and Other Important Rules:



Motions are calls to action or resolutions, and can be made by any member (RONR 1:4).  Motions should be circulated before the meeting so that the motion’s author has a chance to make “friendly amendments” or changes before the meeting based on feedback. 


Once a motion is made by a member, using the expression “I move,” it must be seconded by another member.  After the motion is seconded, the chair will repeat the motion (called “stating the question”).  The chair can rule if a motion is not in order and make sure it is clearly phrased.  Any motions that violate the constitution or bylaws are not in order.


Once a motion is on the floor, members can propose “subsidiary” or related motions, which include:

  • Amending a motion

  • Referring a motion to a committee

  • Postponing the vote on a motion

  • Stopping discussion

  • Limiting debate

  • Calling to Question


To prepare for debating a motion, members can also use the tools: 

  • Point of Information (ask a question)

  • Point of Order (clarify the rules)

  • Point of Privilege (an intervention when a member’s rights are violated)



Once a motion is proposed, debate begins.  The maker of the motion has the first right of the floor.  Then, all speakers must be recognized by the Chair.  Contributions to the debate should be confined to the merits of the motion.


Robert’s Rules has certain procedures for debate. 

  • Each member can speak only twice (RONR 43:8), for a maximum time of ten minutes during the debate over a specific motion though many bylaws shorten this time.

  • The Chair will recognize those that have not spoken before members are given a second chance to speak (RONR 43:8)

  • The Chair cannot participate in debate unless it’s to cast the deciding vote in a tie


Debate closes either once no one else wishes to speak, or by a 2/3 vote after a “call to question.”  Debate can also close if a majority of members vote to postpone a motion (RONR 6:5).  Motions can be postponed to a specific date, or indefinitely, either of which requires a majority vote.


Once the chair calls the motion to question, they must describe the procedure for voting.  Votes include “Yes,” “No,” or “Abstain.”  Majority is calculated by counting those who vote yes or no; abstentions do not count to reach majority (RONR 44:1). Typically, the secretary takes the count.


In Zoom meetings, votes cannot take place via Chat.  Votes can be verbal or use the hand raising function.  The chair then announces the results of the vote. 


Respectful Address & Ending the Meeting:

In a meeting, members should address their remarks to the chair (RONR 4:30), and remarks should be respectful.  Members are referred to by their title and last name (e.g. Member Ausch or Treasurer Ausch).  Breaches of order are handled by the Chair, and can include a warning, calling a member to order, and naming an offender.  The assembly, by majority vote, has the power to remove people from the meeting (RONR 61:13). 


A motion to set the time to adjourn the meeting, or a motion to adjourn the meeting, can be made at any time.  These motions have the highest priority and require either unanimous consent or a majority vote.


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