(AUD) is a pro-labor, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the principles and practices of democratic trade unionism in the North American labor movement.

AUD: Looking to the Future

AUD Herman drawing 2015Last year at this time, we wrote to you about our plans to create a documentary film on the history of AUD.

As most of you know, we premiered that film — “Herman’s Cure” — this past October at an event to honor AUD co-founder Herman Benson’s 100th birthday. Numerous speakers, including ATU International President Larry Hanley, NY State Nurses Association President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, and TDU co-founder Ken Paff, discussed how Benson and AUD helped them over the years. Many thanks to those of you who contributed to the film and to the event, which even generated a modest amount of funds for our organization. So, thank you if you gave for that project. But, as the old saying goes, so what have you done for me lately?

Here is how Benson ended his speech at the October event:

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Benson with NYSNA Pres. Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez (top center) and NYSNA members Oct. 3, 2015, St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. Photo: Shane Mott

“I realize that I have been talking mostly about the past. Please bear with me. But AUD must look toward the future. The union movement has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. True, it is weaker.  But in many ways it is vastly improved and issues of union democracy are posed in new ways.  Still, long experience proves that there is a continuing need for a defense of civil liberties within unions. There is need for an AUD. I am hoping that this gathering will inspire some of you younger people to come forward and fill that need.”

And that has been happening. Here are four union reformers that AUD has met with or worked with. We’ve informed them of the rights and answered their many questions (and we continue to do so). As far as we know, they could be considered, from our vantage point at least, young.

Francesco Portelos, member of the United Federation of Teachers, NYC :  Portelos is the leader of UFT Solidarity, a rank and file caucus in the United Federation of Teachers, the single largest teacher’s union local in the US. He has announced his candidacy for President in the upcoming election.

J.J. Popio, a member of the Utility Workers of America, decided to run for his Ohio local’s office because he studied union administration at a national labor college and thought he could help make his union more effective.  Popio and his colleagues had internal expense policy concerns, so they drew up a campaign plan, and he was endorsed by a few national union leaders. Most importantly, he talked with local union members via Facebook, phone, text message and email on a daily basis about issues that mattered to them.  Though he lost, he is not defeated, and he wrote us that he was very taken with AUD co-founder Clyde Summer’s advice on the matter: “The central point is that the usefulness of union elections is not measured solely by the frequency with which the incumbents are unseated, [but] rather in the frequency with which they are contested and the fullness and accuracy with which they measure the level of discontent. Their usefulness is increased by enabling or encouraging those who can make the best showing to be opposition candidates.”

Justin Babula, a member of Unite-HERE Local 100 (NJ-NY), ran as an independent candidate for President on a platform of accountability and responsiveness to member concerns. His slate felt that the current administration did not represent the members in their workplace grievances and was more concerned with promoting its own supporters than in performing its duty. Babula lost the election, but he has an internal appeal still in process.

Wayne Spence, a member of NYS Public Employees Federation (PEF), is now PEF President.  His coalition, CoUP (Coalition of Union Professionals), ran on a platform committed to fighting for “consistent salary compensation and job protection enhancements,” as well as “True Transparency” between members and leadership. Spence’s idea for a “Mission Vision Statement” for PEF clearly shows PEF members where they are going as a union with all departments working together. Part of his vision is that previously-mentioned contract. Spence supports the Fight for $15 wages for fast food workers. He sees that type of solidarity as beneficial to all workers, including the members he represents, leading to wage and benefit increases to all workers as wages increase to meet true cost of living.

While we didn’t do a conference this year, we have a plan for one next year. Our fall 2016 event will bring together union reformers who have recently run for union office, including some who have won, to discuss their experiences and learn from each other. We will keep you updated on this event in our newsletters and on our web site.

But as always, AUD relies on the generous contributions of people like you to help fund our efforts. Our mission is unchanged from the 1960s: we hope to continue Herman Benson’s dream and goal of a democratic, strong labor movement, and we know you share that vision. Please help us to realize it with a generous contribution. Thank you.

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