Association for Union Democracy

IUOE reform candidates face uphill battle

by Shane Mott

Back in 2007 AUD reported on the The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) new policy that required “all candidates and their supporters who have set up or wish to set up campaign websites “to make their websites password-protected and so accessible only to identifiable IUOE members. This change was ostensibly undertaken to “prevent employers from gaining insight into…[the] union’s sensitive and/or confidential internal workings.” The IUOE was able to fight off an LMRDA suit brought by Local 150 member, Mike Quigley, who was represented by Public Citizen Attorney and AUD Director Paul Alan Levy.

Now the International has placed another impediment to running for local office, and all locals must eventually comply depending on the timing of their election cycle. The new policy, which requires a “nominating petition” was brought to our attention by IUOE 139 member Terry Dabb, who is running for the office of President/Business Manager of Local 139 (Local 139 spans the entire state of Wisconsin). Prior to the new rule all that was needed to be eligible for nomination was a record of good standing. Implementing the new policy in 2014, IUOE Local 139 required that candidates who would run for office collect 200 signatures or 2 percent, whichever is smaller of active or retired members that are in good standing.

Lost in the shuffle are the real world implications of new rule. In Terry Dabb’s case, he told us he spent upwards of three hours of travel after a full day of work driving to alternate work sites with petitions in hand to collect signatures. In one instance he arrived at a site with 80 people and managed to walk away with a scant three signatures. At this rate, it seemed unlikely he would meet the petition deadline. His interactions left him thinking that people were scared to sign the petition, and by extension move against the incumbent. The likely outcome for Terry Dabb and reformers like him is exhaustion from collecting the signatures and undue expenses from associated travel costs.

Through our discussions with IUOE members, it has come to light that this petition is near impossible for most non-machine (non-incumbent) candidates to achieve. We spoke with some IUOE members who reported on the tactics the opposition could employ if you signed a reformer’s nominating petition. Prospective petition signers might face a litany of challenges; First, they would need to get past the wall of self-censorship and muster the courage to sign. Second, assuming they were brave enough to sign they could now face blacklisting tactics from within the local and even stop receiving work. Finally, they could be bullied into withdrawing their signature. In another state, a large local of over 8,000 members was required to implement the new petition rule for its next election. Despite the local’s size the reform candidates could not manage to meet the 200 signature requirement.

The IUOE international has not had a contested election since 1896. Incumbent Presidents always leave office before the term is up, giving them the right to appoint someone to fill their seat rather than open it up for nominations. Then that person becomes the incumbent with all of its advantages. If an upstart local official would try to run a campaign for the office, the International would threaten to put the local under trusteeship, and through this maneuver it would tacitly keep them from running for office just long enough for the election cycle to finish.

Now the international is making local elections even more difficult for reformers to run for office. It seems unlikely that reform candidates like Terry Dabb will be able to pass the nominating petition procedure to get onto the ballot in the first place.

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