Mike Walker, your OWAA third vice president, is a pretty perceptive fellow.
He often sees things on the horizon before anyone else. Recently, he had one of those moments by raising a valid concern.
“I think we are in an unprecedented economy where members are finding fewer assignments due to media going out of business or cutting back,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I think we all are aware of this.”
Evidence continues to mount on how OWAA members are being negatively impacted by the weak economy. Louie Stout, a freelancer from the Midwest, had half his newspaper contributions cut in half and was lucky to keep that much. Jim Smith got a rejection slip on a query to a magazine that is going out of business after 112 years of publishing. Bill Graham’s bureau is closing at the Kansas City Star, where a new round of layoffs seems imminent.
An outdoor writer who is not a member told me an Indiana paper dropped his column without notice. Calls to the editor to find out why were not being answered.
“So, here is the question,” wrote Walker, who proceeded to ask a lot of thought-provoking questions. “How will OWAA handle a situation where a member loses enough assignments that he or she no longer qualifies for membership? Do we lose good people this way?
“Further, what would happen if a board member or officer was no longer able to maintain active membership? Would he or she be dropped from the office or board? Is the person affected allowed to serve out the term of office?
“We only have to look at the skinny magazines and papers cutting back or folding to realize this economy may eventually affect membership as well as some of our most committed leaders through no fault of their own.”
Fortunately, at least in the short term, OWAA has those questions covered, even though our bylaws state rather ominously that a “vacancy be declared” when a board member or officer loses status as an Active member.
However, our bylaws also state that “active and associate members unable to pass a credentials review may appeal to the Executive Director for an extension of membership.”
Extensions are granted for one year, after which the member would be subject to a credentials review. If the member’s situation were unchanged (in other words the person still didn’t meet Active status requirements), then the bylaws are more strict – reduced status or expiration of membership.
Changing the rules to be even more accommodating in an “unprecedented economy” may be worthy of consideration, and there is a process for change. Referring once again to our bylaws, membership criteria can be adjusted with a two-thirds majority of the board, which is then subject to a final vote of the membership.
That sort of action could be done with relative ease.
Executive Director Kevin Rhoades weighed in on the topic, too.
“I don’t think ‘not passing the audit’ category of reasons will impact us much this year,” he said. “I can see some members, however, during the dues renewal process penning notes saying, ‘Don’t qualify, lost my job.’ “
Rhoades doubts that being hounded by “the dreaded audit” will be the reason so much as the lost job(s) will make it more difficult to pony up the annual $150 dues.
Because credential audits are random and number no more than 100 annually, a member down on his or her luck in the job market might survive unnoticed for years.
“It would take us 10 years to cycle through the entire membership,” Rhoades said. “You might like to know that two to three members each year tell me there’s some sort of unforeseen circumstances which keep them from passing the audit.
“Usually it’s a health situation or a natural disaster where a home has been destroyed. We’ve had a few of those lately. In extreme cases, I grant them an extra year.”
That tells me that OWAA does have a heart and isn’t always hamstrung by rules.
So for now, OWAA members can rest assured that sufficient mechanisms are in place to help them retain membership status in difficult times.
They also can take comfort knowing that folks like Mike Walker are keeping one eye on the horizon in case OWAA needs to do more. ◊
Phil Bloom, of Indiana, began his term as OWAA’s president in June 2008.