Association for Union Democracy

No election of delegates to union convention?

A: Let’s start with what the Department of Labor says,

“…any delegate who votes for officers of a national or international union or an intermediate body, such as a conference or a council, must be elected by secret ballot among the members in good standing of the union he represents…”

That seems to support your point of view. But, the DOL also says,

If the constitution and bylaws state that one of the functions of a particular elected officer is to be a delegate who votes for officers, a special election of that officer to be a delegate is not necessary if the officer has been elected by secret ballot among the members in good standing of the union he represents.”

How many votes a local union will have is up to the union to decide, as long as the formula is fair and evenly applied.

How to find out what your union’s rules are?

First, look at the constitution of the parent union (the national or international union).
That document spells out who is eligible to be a delegate at a union convention, how many votes each local is entitled to, and the procedures for electing officers at the convention.

The parent union’s constitution may also grant subordinate bodies (councils, districts, locals) authority to set rules and choose a method for selecting delegates, for example allowing the local to choose to send officers, or allowing a local to choose to send a greater or lesser number of delegates (usually dividing up the local’s votes pro rata). So, you have to look at the constitution of the District in addition to your local bylaws.

What can you do if you don’t like the way delegates are chosen?

You’ll have to try to amend the parent union constitution and/or your local bylaws, depending on which document specifies the process you’d like to change. Special elections for all local delegates shortly before the parent union’s convention give members the chance to elect delegates pledged to vote in favor of candidates and/or policies
the members support, and thereby to have some actual democratic impact on the governance of their union.

Short of amending your union’s constitution and/or local bylaws, you may wish to explore other options, like passing a motion at a union meeting to have the local send additional delegates (who would then have to elected). Depending on the constitution and bylaws, the delegates might then divide up the local’s votes pro rata — if the local gets ten votes
and you send twenty delegates, each would have 1/2 of a vote. It depends on the specifics of the situation. If you have questions about a particular case, contact AUD.

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