Chapels are workplace structures where the NUJ is organised. Branches are normally groups of members in the same geographic areas.
Chapels can be formed by groups of members (usually three or more) in a workplace or part of a workplace. Forming a chapel is the first step to organising the union in a workplace.
Chapels represent an opportunity for members to engage collectively with their employers to address issues in the workplace. Recognised chapels have an agreement with the employer to represent staff, but even unrecognised chapels can bring colleagues together to present a united front.
This can help to improve conditions in the workplace in the absence of a formal agreement, or in the process of organising for recognition. Having recognition in place enables the chapel to negotiate on pay and conditions.
Very large workplaces may have more than one chapel to make it easier for members to meet. A chapel can also represent the media or communications departments of non-media companies.
The long-standing practice in the print industry of the name "chapel" for workplace organisations has unclear origins. References to such chapels can be found as far back as the late 17th century in Joseph Moxon's Mechanik Exercises: Or, The Doctrine Of Handy-Works (1683-1685).
Early printing offices were often located in or close to religious chapels and it was also the case that bibles and religious texts made up a large proportion of early printers' work. Religious chapels were also seen as safe meeting places for workers at times when worker organisations were banned, or it could be the fact that early guilds often had their own religious chapels. Whatever the reason, NUJ chapels prevail to this day.
NUJ branches largely bring members from different workplaces together. Branches cover a specific geographic area or sector of the industry.
Branches engage in a variety of activities, often defined by their size. Most hold monthly meetings at which issues members face are discussed. Branches can be a useful resource for members looking for advice or support.
Branches receive funding from the union centrally based on their membership. These funds are usually available to support chapels and other members.
Branch meetings often feature guest speakers or discussions around particular topics. They also offer an opportunity for members to network with other members from different workplaces.
In the large urban areas of Cork, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, there are two or more branches, usually divided by sector. Particularly large workplaces, such as the BBC, the Guardian or the Financial Times, have what are known as chapel branches specific to their workplace.
Members are assigned to a branch when they apply, but every member is free to belong to any branch they choose. Members can change their branch in the My Membership section of their My NUJ profile.
Branches are the heart of the union's democracy and have some very important roles:
1. Branches approve new applications for membership.
2. Branches nominate people for election to most of the union's councils and committees.
3. Branches propose most of the motions and amendments to the union's delegate meeting and send most of the delegates.