Cathy’s Column: Transparency and What It Means to Our Union


By Cathy Repola


I am certain I am not alone in indicating that I cannot even begin to count how many times in the last year I have heard the word “transparency.” It has been spoken of at our board of directors meetings. It has been voiced during our membership meetings. It has been posted about repeatedly within our private Facebook group, I Am the Union. And really, up until about a year ago, I very infrequently heard it uttered. Was my head buried in the sand? I don’t think so. And now, it’s uttered so many times, it is literally impossible to count. One could say that, for our union, all this focus on transparency is the result of the last IA Basic Agreement ratification vote. That is certainly a piece of it, but it goes well beyond our union. It is a recurring mantra in new stories and social media posts everywhere.

And I admit, as someone in a leadership position, when it first started being repeated within my circles, my impulse was to question whether those asking for more transparency were implying, or even outright directly indicating, that somehow, not only had I not been transparent, but even worse, that perhaps I was intentionally going about the business of purposefully being non-transparent. That is not even close to who I am or how I see myself. So, I had to do a bit of self-reflection. Why did my mind go straight to thinking that a demand for transparency had a negative connotation associated to it? Was I the only one who thought so? It took me a while to step back from that reaction and instead search for answers to what those advocating for transparency were really seeking. After all, the dictionary definition of the word “transparent” in this context is “free from pretense or deceit, easily detected or seen through, readily understood, characterized by visibility or accessibility of information.”

“Free from pretense or deceit.” Neither I nor anyone else in a leadership role in the Guild is guilty of this notion. ‘Easily detected or seen through.” That one needs a bit more exploration, because there are so many facets to the union structure and policies and obligations, I am not sure where exactly this lands.

I began reading news and feature articles on government transparency, on transparency within business, and of course, I read every source I could find about the call of union members for transparency within their unions throughout the country. And I had to not just listen to you, the members of this Guild, but to really hear you, to put myself in your shoes, to look beyond any sense that the cry for transparency maybe wasn’t about accusations, was not about what we had not intentionally not done, but really was more about how we could do more. And I found not only a new sense of comfort in that, but also a way to examine my resistant attitude towards the concept and better yet, I discovered a path towards embracing it.

After all, I have always wanted you, the members, to feel informed, to have enough detailed information available so that you may make educated decisions to understand the nuances, the potential political maneuvering we need to do, the historical perspectives, and everything else needed to understand the realities of what you are facing.

Interestingly, I have had members tell me I am too transparent, saying I provide too many details, and get too into the minutiae, and I am not sure really what to do with that. Because that is not how I see it. Then again, I had someone recently tell me that, in their opinion, the best leader is both feared and respected — and I wasn’t sure what to do what that either. Hmm. This was in the context of a not-so-subtle evaluation of that person’s opinion of the type of leader they see me as. I do disagree with that overall philosophy. And I do disagree I have been too transparent. I, in fact, want to be transparent and I do not want to be feared by the membership.

So, if you desire more information or even the same information but in a different format, I welcome you to tell me. I may not always agree with you, but I will respectfully consider your input. And I also want you to recognize that in the midst of negotiations, some things need to be protected so not to publicly put us in a compromised position, so it sometimes is a fine balancing act. This I really want you to understand, I need for you to understand, and at the same time when this occurs I want you to recognize I am not trying to be non-transparent.

We are all literally in this together. I want to stand side-by-side with you, to have mutual respect, and a willingness to self-examine from me and from you. We can all always endeavor to do better. Let us always be kind and gracious and decent to one another. Oh, and if you want a leader who you fear, you picked the wrong person.

And now, how many times in this column does the word transparency appear? I did not count.