Association for Union Democracy

A Draft Bill of Rights for Building Trades Unionists

AUD drafted this Bill of Rights for discussion at the AUD National Conference on Union Democracy in the Building Trades, November 8th and 9th, 2002, in Brooklyn, New York. We encourage construction unionists to circulate and post this document for discussion and debate, and to forward responses to us at It is our hope that construction unionists will embrace and promote these principles in their unions. (Last updated: 1/3/03; contact AUD for 11 x 17 inch poster version.)

1. No more “right to reject.” Most construction contracts give employers the right to reject any applicants for employment without explanation or justification, even when they are dispatched from the halls of unions with exclusive employment rights. The so-called “right to reject” leaves employers free to take action against union activists, to blacklist union stewards, and to discriminate against any worker who files a grievance to enforce the terms of a union contract. We call upon our unions to take action to abolish the right to reject. Unions should insist that employers show good cause before rejecting an applicant, that they be required to explain and justify any such rejection, and that procedures be established for enforcing the new rule.

2. A fair hiring system. Construction unionists should have the right to work safely, in dignity, and with a high standard of living. In too many cases, arrogant officials use their control over job referrals to build a political machine and guarantee their reelection by handing out the best jobs to their cronies and discriminating against independent-minded members who insist on their rights. Union members who are women or workers of color are doubly victims of such favoritism in hiring. We insist upon the implementation of a fair hiring system which distributes job opportunities for all dues-paying members without fear or favor.

3. Strong job stewards and a grievance procedure which protects workers from retaliation. Once employers lose the right to reject, union stewards can be protected against retaliation and will be free to fulfill their responsibility to enforce the union contract. It will be possible to implement an effective grievance procedure to protect workers’ rights to safe and decent working conditions. Meanwhile all unionists should be informed of their rights under existing grievance procedures. Where unionists are discriminated against by employers for insisting on their rights, the union should seek every avenue of recourse, including a demand that the NLRB fulfill its obligations to protect union workers’ rights to fair employment.

4. Direct elections: one member one vote. The top officers of construction unions, like the officers of other unions, tend to lose touch with their membership and forget that their first loyalty is to those whose dues pay their salaries. To remind them of this basic principle of unionism, we propose that top international and regional officers be elected by direct vote of the membership under a system which provides for:

1. Supervision by an impartial outside agency independent of the union power structure,
2. Reasonable requirements for running for office, and
3. Provisions for the discussion of candidates and issues at union expense.

Meanwhile, as a step forward, where top officers are elected by vote of delegates at conventions we propose that delegates vote by secret ballot to free them of pressure and intimidation by the incumbents in power.

5. Right to vote on contracts. We demand an end to the system by which collective bargaining contracts are imposed on members without their review. We endorse the right of members to vote for or against proposed contracts. Before any such vote, we propose 1. That the full and accurate terms of any contract be reported to the membership far enough in advance of the vote to permit intelligent review, and 2. That provisions be made for democratic discussion of the contract provisions.

6. Let our members know! We demand automatic distribution to all members of copies of the collective bargaining contract and union constitutions and bylaws. Our unions must comply with Section 105 of the LMRDA which requires unions to inform members of their democratic rights under Federal law, a summary of these rights to be posted permanently on the union’s website, distributed to all new members, and appended as information to the international constitution.

7. Equal treatment for all members. Establish a system and a schedule of meetings which allows all members to attend and to vote, taking into account that members may live and work in geographically scattered localities. The power of labor depends upon strengthening the solidarity of union members. Therefore it is essential to ameliorate the tension between travelers and all other members. Because of the transient nature of our work, construction workers are denied the kind of seniority rights that provide security for unionized workers in production. It is imperative that hiring systems be adopted which assure local members the greatest possibility of secure and steady work. At the same time, when work is slow in their own locality, union members must be protected in their right to seek jobs where the demand for labor is high. Travelers should receive full protection of their rights under the contract as all others. After living and working for an extended period in their new locality, they should be eligible for membership with full rights in the local under whose jurisdiction they have been working.

8. Strengthen the right to run for office. Meeting attendance rules and long-term continuous good-standing rules simply restrict the right to run for office to a tiny entrenched clique. A longtime union member can be disqualified even if she or he inadvertently and temporarily falls in arrears months before an election. End all such rules and extend the right to run for office to all members in current good standing who have been union members for some reasonable period, like six months or one year.

9. Freedom from corruption. Let all elected local trustees do their job with full access to the union books. Provide members with full and accurate reports on union finances. To assure honest elections and referendums, let voting procedures be supervised by a reliable outside agency wherever there is even the remotest possibility of fraud.

Please post this notice widely. (Copies available upon request.) The Association for Union Democracy presents this Bill of Rights for discussion and debate by construction unionists. This Bill of Rights offers more than principles to endorse. It can serve as a guide to action on those issues which are directly relevant in your union. We welcome feedback.

Association for Union Democracy 104 Montgomery Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11225; USA 718-564-1114,

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