When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in February 1998 that credit unions could not consist of more than one occupational group as their common bond, William Mellin’s immediate concern was with the weakening of the credit union charter.
“The other side of the coin was excitement,” says Mellin, president/CEO of the New York Credit Union Association. “The coordination of unifying the credit union movement, chartering buses down to Washington, D.C., from every corner of New York, and planning our trip to the Capitol was an incredibly exciting time.”
Mellin tells CUNA News about his experience working toward the passage of HR 115, the Credit Union Membership Access Act, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
CUNA News: What was your role in HR 1151 advocacy?
Mellin: At that time I was in more of a support role for what was then known as the New York State Credit Union League.
It was a lot of coordination: Coordinating with our chapters and the bus companies, coordinating the people who were participating in the rally, and working with the executive staff to ensure our congressional delegation—and Sen. Al D’Amato in particular—knew we were coming to Washington to make our voices heard on this issue.
Sen. D’Amato, as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, was vital in advancing the legislation and bringing it to the floor. The New York credit union movement’s close relationship with the senator proved to be an important factor in the bill’s passage.
CUNA News: How has this legislation shaped the industry over the years?
Mellin: Obviously, the legislation was vital in allowing the credit union movement to grow and expand organically.
It gave the movement much more flexibility in terms of their business models and their ability to bring more employer groups into their field of membership.
The flipside, of course, is that the legislation put a statutory limitation on credit unions’ member business loans.
CUNA News: What lessons can we take away from this effort?
Mellin: The credit union movement is extraordinarily powerful when we speak with a strong, united voice. But just as important, we learned that we can never give in and never give up on our advocacy initiatives.
We have to stay on guard and keep fighting to preserve our movement.
As a league, we saw firsthand just how important it is to build personal relationships with our lawmakers and elected officials.