The COVID-19 pandemic has, in addition to costing the United States over 580,000 deaths, significantly impacted our daily lives and changed the way we do many things either temporarily or permanently. These changes have certainly included union activities. We have had to adjust how we handle our monthly union meetings, officer elections, contract negotiations and ratification, grievance and arbitration hearings, and other union related trainings and conferences.
Officers respond to pandemic
Among the changes was the cancellation of the 2020 UWUA regional conferences. The regional conferences were scheduled to be held during the beginning of the pandemic and the National Officers made what at the time was a difficult decision, but in hindsight was certainly the right decision to cancel the conferences.
As the pandemic raged on into the beginning of 2021 the officers were faced with another conference decision, whether to hold or cancel the P4A Conference. The P4A Conference has been held every four years since 2013 and is focused on providing attendees with various union trainings and presentations on the activities of the Power for America Training Trust Fund across the UWUA. The officers certainly did not want to cancel the P4A Conference outright. However, with a decision point in early February 2021 and with vaccine distribution seeming uncertain, the officers were less than optimistic that a fall conference planned for nearly one thousand people, was in the cards.
The risk of proceeding with the conference was not only jeopardizing the health and safety of our members and their families, but also subjecting the union to significant financial losses if attendance was less than planned, or worse, if the conference had to be canceled at a later date. The decision was made to attempt to get out of the contracts for the conference and, if that was possible, to cancel the conference. Through some tough negotiations, Secretary-Treasurer Michael Coleman was able to work out a deal with the host hotel that did not negatively impact the union financially, thereby clearing the way for cancellation of the conference, at least physically.
With the decision set to cancel an in-person P4A Conference, work turned toward determining whether or not the conference could be held virtually. Many of the changes that the union has experienced during the pandemic have included going from in-person to virtual meetings and trainings. The officers, believing in the overall value of the P4A Conference, wanted to explore the possibility of a virtual P4A. Fortunately, during the pandemic, the P4A gained significant experience in providing virtual training. P4A Executive Director, Jonathan Harmon was brought in to determine the viability of providing the conference in a virtual setting, and after some discussion it was decided that the P4A Conference would go on virtually.
Virtual safety and skills trainings
Therefore, plans are in the works for a virtual P4A Conference to be held in October 2021. The conference will include all the offerings of the in-person conference including, guest speakers, union training, and presentations from the Young Workers’, Women’s, and National Safety Committees, as well as presentations from across the country from UWUA locals that have utilized the P4A to improve the safety and skilling of their members. Specific details on the conference schedule and offerings, as well as the registration process, will be available in late summer.
Although everyone would prefer an in-person conference, presenting the 2021 P4A Conference virtually should expand on the number of participants and provide for training opportunities on the member’s timeline. The plan is to offer live speeches, discussions, and trainings that will be recorded for later viewing by those unable to attend the live session. There will also be many more presentations and training sessions than the typical in-person conference would allow and these again can be viewed at the members’ convenience. Despite losing the value of all of us being together, the 2021 P4A Conference is lining up to be a very informative and educational opportunity for the members of the UWUA, and could well serve as a model for future P4A Conferences. Those will most certainly be held in-person and may include a virtual component as well.