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From the March, 2000 issue of UDR

Some Modest Proposals for a Teamster Code

By Herman Benson

In announcing RISE, its proposal for a union code of conduct, the Teamsters union encourages input from all interested parties. In that spirit, I would like to submit a few suggestions derived from AUD's long and varied experience in collaborating with reformers in many unions.

Enforcement: Even in the most admirable of unions, issues of discipline, contested elections, appeals, charges, etc. are too often decided not on the basis of law, justice, or simple fairness but by narrow considerations of internal political power. In a union like the Teamsters which has been the arena for bitter factional battles, any code of conduct must deal with this stark fact. Any enforcement policy which relies exclusively on the union's own power structure will lack credibility. If the government monitorship is lifted and the court-appointed Independent Review Board dissolved, it should be replaced by an independent Public Review Board as in the United Auto Workers but with one important qualification urgently required to make it credible in this case.

As in the UAW, the PRB should be composed of eminent public figures who are independent of the union but are pro-labor and civil libertarian in their outlook. It should, like the UAW board, function like a kind of Supreme Court with the power, on appeal, to reverse decisions of the IBT president and general executive board. It should be provided with an independent budget.

However, the choice of board members should not rest entirely in the hands of the union establishment. I would propose that a panel; of, say, 50 or more nominees be selected by on-governmental public interest groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Citizen, National Organization of Women, etc. Of this group of nominees, the union should elect a dozen or more member to serve a term of three to five years.

Informing the members: The current RISE plan seems preoccupied with informing IBT members of the importance of the plan itself and of the evolution of its many phases. What should be added is information on what their democratic rights are as established in the union constitution and in federal law. As a minimum, a strengthening of democracy would require:

1. Compliance with section 105 of the LMRDA which requires unions to inform their members concerning the provisions of the Act: on civil liberties in unions, on safeguards for fair elections and due process in trials, on trusteeships, and on fiscal responsibility of officers,. In accordance with a decision in the U. S. Appeals Court, 4th Circuit, members should be informed that these rights are mandated by federal law and that they have possible recourse in court, to the Labor Department and other government agencies if they are dissatisfied with internal union rulings.

2. All members, without being required to make a formal request, should automatically receive copies of the international constitution, local bylaws, and all collective bargaining agreements that determine their conditions of work. They should have the right, upon request, to inspect all other contract which affect their work indirectly.

3.Members should have the right, in orderly fashion, to inspect union books and minutes to verify the validity of expenditures.

4. Members should be informed of their right to appeal to the Public Review Board.

On collective bargaining:

1. Workers should have the right to vote on ratifying collective bargaining agreements that regulate their work. In advance of any ratification referendum, copies of the proposed agreement or an accurate summary should be provided to the voters and provision made for discussion.

2. Stewards should be elected by the members they represent.

3. Copies of local amendments, memos, letters of understanding, etc., which relate to the agreement should be distributed to the members affected.

Union elections: Members should be encouraged to participate in the life of the union. All burdensome barriers to running for office should be removed.

1. Candidates for local office should require no more than nomination by one member in good standing and a second by another.

2. Meeting attendance rules which almost always operate to disqualify over half the members from running for office and enable a small clique to remain in power should be eliminated.

3. Because they are often unfairly manipulated to disqualify good active members from running for office, so-called continuous good standing rules should be eliminated. Union membership for a limited period and good standing at the time of nomination should be an adequate requirement.

4. In locals of 500 members or more, officer elections should be by secret ballot, preferably by mail, supervised by a reliable independent outside agency.

5. Participation in unions election campaigns by all candidates and a limited number of their campaigners should be defined as "union business" in union contracts which require employers to grant leaves of absence for such purposes.

6. Union publications should make provision for candidates and slates to present their views in the pre-election period. In this respect the United Federation of Teachers in New York provides the model.

Members rights:

1. A Bill of rights which incorporates, as a minimum, all the basic rights of free speech, fair elections, and due process prescribed by federal law should be written into the union constitution, thereby reducing the need to seek recourse outside the union.

2. All union hiring halls should be required to adopt rules which assure that job referrals are made fairly without discrimination or favoritism. Copies of these rules should be made available to all affected members. All referral lists should be open to inspection by members.

3. Union publications should allow for the expression of dissenting views. The Masters, Mates, and Pilots provides a possible model for such exchanges.

4. Before a local or locals are dissolved, split, or merged, notice should be provided to all affected members. If ten or more members object, the issue should go promptly to the Public Review Board which will review the proposed action. If it decides that the action may be suspect, that is, an effort to suppress legitimate dissent, it may order a secret ballot referendum of the affected membership to decide the issue, allowing for a discussion of opposing views.

Articles on RISE and Teamster reform:
RISE uncovers corruption before its demise (9/04-10/04)
RISE and Teamster reform at Cornell University
(1/04-3/04)
Can the IBT police itself?(9/03-10/03)
The Transmogrification of Teamsters Local 854(9/03-10/03)
Is Teamsters Union safe for dissenters? An exchange (10/11 2002)
The vindication of Ron Carey (12/1 2001-2002)
"The Fox and the Chicken Coop" -- comments on the proposed Teamsters Ethics Code. (3/4 2000)
"Some Modest Proposals for a Teamster Code" (3/4 2000)

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