Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Message from AFICS: Change your emails; and hands off our members! (15 July 2015)

The AFICS President hasn’t been the least bit shy about her displeasure concerning our use of the AFICS directory to connect with AFICS members about pension matters. You may recall that at our 17 June 2015 meeting she called it "dunning" (as in “making persistent demands of someone, especially for payment of debts”, see post “Gilding the lily” below). 

Now AFICS is suddenly asking its members to change their email addresses. Why now? Could it have anything to do with not wanting AFICS members to be contacted about pension matters? Just asking. Reminder to AFICS: we're members too, and as such we're within our rights to communicate with one another on matters of mutual interest.

AFICS circulated an email to its membership today, announcing updates on the website, conspicuously not including any of our letters related to the request by 82 members for a meeting under AFICS by-Laws, and the 29 June 2015 letter from the FICSA President (see post below titled “AFICS on pension matters: inconvenient truths > distortion”). 

For those who didn't receive it, here’s what today's AFICS message says about email changes: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have provided us with a new email address to correct the problems we had primarily with AOL and to a lesser extent with YAHOO and HOTMAIL.  We are confident that this will improve our communications.  In order to avoid any misunderstanding, we would like to reiterate that this request was made because the 3 providers consistently or periodically block and reject all UN.ORG group emails.” 

It could very well mean that AFICS has suddenly swung into high-efficiency gear. Still, such a move would be completely out of character (more on this later). AFICS showed no concern about the massive numbers of incorrect email addresses in its directory until UN Pension Blog began to communicate with AFICS members. AFICS also knows its actions are recently – and perhaps for the first time – under scrutiny by its members. Methinks, too, that the President doth protest too much -- the quick move to reassure  or “avoid any misunderstanding”, as to the sudden interest in correcting its email lists.

This afternoon, a very formal email message arrived from the AFICS office: “Dear Ms. Rickard-Martin, We have been approached by one of our members Mr. . .  who wishes to be removed from your mailing lists on the Pension Fund issues.  Mr. . .  sent you two emails to this effect but he keeps receiving your emails and asked us to intervene. It would be appreciated if you could remove his email address from your lists(. .. . Thank you very much. Best regards.” 

Now, it’s quite true.  I had overlooked two requests from a member to remove his name from the UN Pension Blog list. Frankly, his requests were buried beneath the massive numbers of notices of undelivered emails owing to numerous errors in the listings contained in the AFICS directory. And he, and anyone else, absolutely has the right to request to be removed from any mailing list he chooses. As mentioned, this was the second of such requests from AFICS members, the first which I complied with immediately, and this one, which I unfortunately overlooked. 

Here, in part, is my response, with the goodly gentleman’s name redacted to protect his privacy (a valid concern in this case): “Dear [AFICS],it was an oversight on my part and has now been done. It may interest you to know that Mr. . . is one of only two AFICS members who have asked to be removed from my list.  I might add that it would behoove AFICS to inform members that when they provide their email address it is not only for the use of the AFICS office, as Mr. . . appears to believe. If that were the case, there would be no need for AFICS to provide its members with a directory. The purpose of providing members with a directory that contains contact information about one another is so that we're able to be in touch on matters of mutual importance. Any member who does not wish to provide information to be listed in the directory is not required to do so. I believe that would be obvious to both AFICS and its members, and also the responsibility of the AFICS office to ensure its members are clear about what constitutes privacy issues and what does not.” 

One positive byproduct of the pension controversy:  the AFICS leadership has never been so active. Defensive tackles require a lot of energy! This is an organization after all that in many of its operations is yet to enter the 21st century (think online payment of membership dues and event fees). 

When will members receive an updated AFICS directory? Perhaps never, now that AFICS is experiencing the discomfort of eyes on its “we-know-best-business-as-usual” manner of operation, there will likely be no hurry to facilitate communication among its members. 

There are moments in any worthwhile endeavor when one begins to experience the strain of interacting with actors who are masters of obfuscation. We truly understand, too, the law of diminishing returns (increased output, decreased results, hence the break from letter-writing), and the limits of everyone's attention span and tolerance for inanity,  particularly when the topic is so important. 

At times such as these, it helps to remind ourselves that there’s no inherent contradiction between the practice of compassion and empathy and other values by which we choose to guide our actions,  and causing discomfort for the few for the sake of the many, in serving a cause larger than ourselves. 

So, rest assured, as tiresome as it may be at times to stay the course, we're committed to our effort  to nudge and cajole our retiree organization toward responsibility and accountability to its members. AFICS deserves it, and we deserve it. As we pursue the path we've set for ourselves, we're reminded of Nik Wallenda's strategy for maintaining focus: “I’ve trained all my life not to be distracted by distractions". 

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