Getting involved in UNISON
The first point of contact for UNISON stewards is the UNISON branch.
The branch is the main unit of local membership organisation and also normally the main vehicle for negotiation between the union and the employer.
All members belong to a branch, dependant upon the employer they work for and the geographical area in which they work.
Sometimes a branch is made up of members working for one employer - for example, a particular hospital trust or university. More commonly, a branch covers members working for a number of employers based in a particular geographical area and providing similar types of services.
At present branches tend to fall into one of seven service groups: local government, health care, higher education, police staff, transport, energy, and water.
However, there is now no requirement for branches to fit within these boundaries, and they are beginning to blur as the number of voluntary and private employers providing public services grows.
The UNISON branch plays a number of key roles, including ensuring effective negotiations take place with the employers it covers, ensuring that its members are given effective advice and representation, and providing effective support for stewards, safety representatives and workplace contacts.
The branch is the main vehicle by which members participate in developing UNISON policy and objectives.
It is, therefore, essential that stewards get involved in their local branch as much as they are able.
All branches must have at least one members' meeting a year. This is the Annual General Meeting (see UNISON's AGM Survival Pack Acrobat PDF version), which is held between 1 January and 31 March.
Some branches hold more than one members' meeting a year, and large branches are asked to have 'aggregate' meetings - a series of local meetings held at different times and venues to enable more members to attend.
Branches must elect certain core officers, including a chair, secretary, treasurer, equalities officer, health and safety officer, education co-ordinator, communications officer, international officer and young members' officer.
Branches may also create other posts according to their rules. Officers are elected either at the AGM or by postal ballot beforehand.
The branch officers and stewards form the branch committee. Branch committees meet monthly and are responsible for running all branch business between full members' meetings.
Normally all stewards are members of the branch committee.However, in large branches the number of stewards may need to be limited, in which case branches must find ways of keeping the remainder involved.
This is usually done through a section structure.
All large branches are expected to establish section structures which reflect the range of employers and/or employers' departmental structures so that members can organise more effectively.
Stewards in each section then meet as a section steward committee and have their own representatives directly elected onto the main branch committee.
Branches are also encouraged to develop organisation among under-represented groups such as women, black members, gays and lesbians, disabled members, young members and retired members by setting up self-organised groups.
These can also elect officers to the branch committee.
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