Association for Union Democracy

“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”*

*Jane Jacobs, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”

As the expression goes “everything old is new again.” Just when it seems the concerns of days gone by are at their most anachronistic, they resurface with a vengeance. From an uptick in Eighties nostalgia, to a (brief) uproar in the Democratic Party debates over busing, it appears that Fitzgerald was wrong to say “there are no second acts in America.” The AUD finds itself in such a situation. It is launching a new initiative to address an old problem, facilitating the debate on how to address the decline of union representation in the workforce, and all the while continues to disseminate its wealth of knowledge regarding “letter of the law” union democracy rights.

While growing branches to capture new light being shed on the labor movement’s problems, AUD keeps the flame alive in its traditional areas of expertise. In recent months, we helped a gas worker in Massachusetts understand his rights when the DoL files suit against his union to enforce its supervised rerun, provided guidance to two bakery workers running for office for the first time in a local with long-entrenched leadership, helped an interpreters union explore setting up a fair “virtual” hiring hall, helped a newly empowered rank-and-file caucus review and propose improvements to its bylaws, provided legal assistance to a dissident steward in a gas workers local, helped a firefighter in Arizona learn his rights in a first-time run for office, and helped a union member create a podcast that spotlighted material from AUD’s website.

As far as the new stuff goes, AUD is revisiting an issue that has, in one form or another, always dogged the labor movement: the problem of “sham” unions. These entities make sweetheart deals with employers and do little to represent their workers. Often they do not inform their members of their democratic rights, get around having elections; basically just stay in power and collect dues. AUD has counseled union members stuck in sham unions but it is a difficult problem to fix. We are embarked on a new effort to attack the problem here in New York City.

As to the old but new, you know AUD exists not only to provide information and guidance on democratic rights but to facilitate education, debate and learning within the labor movement. Way back in 1990, AUD co-founder Clyde Summers addressed the potential for unions to function without a majority of the members of a shop. Summers posited that it was conceivable that such “minority” unions could not only function but flourish without the burdens that go with exclusive representation. The framework was controversial when penned and remains so. But after Janus v. AFSCME, thinkers in the union movement are exploring strategies for collective bargaining that do not depend on the exclusive representation model so assumed to be a necessary condition (see our $100 Plus Club News #136).

So this is where you, the supporters of AUD, come in. AUD accepts no donations from corporate sponsors, has few foundation grants; thus, virtually depends on the good will of our supporters to fund the staff, office, phones, and library of union democracy-related literature we call upon to help us give the best counsel we can. AUD continues to be flexible and responsive to the current concerns of labor’s rank-and-file while holding down the fort on the LMRDA front. We ask that you contribute to AUD and make certain that it remains both an innovator and defender of what makes Labor a friend to the worker.


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