Association for Union Democracy

Obscure Designation Flummoxes Reform Group in Bakery Workers local

Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union local 125 in California has had a recent upheaval following its executive board election in November of 2015. The ascendency of a new leadership represents a shift in the consciousness of the membership, as a result of an odd, seemingly archaic, designation the local is facing. A designation that cuts off the membership from decision making within the union, not due to the perfidy of the officers, but by its very nature.

The BCTGM was formed as a merger of the American Bakery and Confectionary Workers’ International Union and the Tobacco Workers International Union in 1978 and a second merger with the American Federation of Grain Processors in 1999. The BCTGM is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and functions as standard trade union, with at least one notable exception. According to the International, and the local 125 bylaws, local 125 is what is known as a “factory chartered union”, with a number of its own special bylaws and regulations that are inconsistent with the rules followed by the rest of the locals in the International. In other BCTGM locals, the executive board is beholden to the will of the membership.

According to the BCTGM’s Constitution, factory chartered unions:

“…may be formed. Where they exist, they shall have such structure, officers, rules and regulations as are approved by the General Executive Board. The Executive Board of such Factory Local Union shall, to the extent permitted by law, transact all business and exercise all powers otherwise vested in local union meetings, and any action taken by such local Executive Board shall have the same force and effect as though taken by meetings of the local union, except that change in the dues structure and assessments, election of local union officers, and election of convention delegates must be accomplished by secret-ballot vote of the local union’s members.”

The bylaws of local 125 echo this system:

“These bylaws may be amended only after a two-thirds vote of all persons present and voting at a meeting of the Executive Board called for the purpose, which purpose shall be stated in writing to all Executive Board members at least three days before the calling of such meeting.”

In laymen’s terms, the full powers to change policy, which typically is shared by the membership and executive board alike, is given over to the executive board with limited opportunities for the membership to check that power. The board is, of course, elected by the membership and, to that degree, subject to their concerns. However, the membership itself does not meet semiannually as is required by the BCTGM Constitution for its other chartered locals.

The bylaws of local 125 do allow for special meetings in which the whole membership would be engaged, but these meetings
(hence the “special designation”) are the exception, not the rule. Even the changing of bylaws within the local can only be approved with a two-thirds majority vote of the executive board, with the membership at best left to lobby the administration for such changes.

The designation of “Factory Chartered Union” and the stipulations following from it, are, as far as AUD knows. unique to the BCTGM. The status is different from the more ubiquitous Company or “yellow” union, a workers’ association completely at the behest of management. Local 125 is not, by its very nature, a company-run organization. It is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and has genuine collective bargaining power. It is the built in barriers against participation and oversight by the membership that make it unique among the community of unions thus far engaged with by the Association for Union Democracy.

This inordinate amount of influence by the executive board brought strife to the local in November of 2015, when a reform slate (fueled by the perceived lack of democracy in 125) elected a number of its candidates to the executive board and elected a new President and Secretary-Treasurer. Though not explicitly interested in completely changing the local 125, the reform group, now with significant power in the local, is motivated to change the fundamentally undemocratic nature of its bylaws and thus manner of conducting business.
But change has not come easy. One of the incumbent officials defeated in the general election challenged the results and was able to engineer a rerun on the grounds the opposition engaged in “mudslinging,” which was, according to the election committee, a violation of the union’s election policy (itself a policy likely in violation of the LMRDA). A recount was held and still the opposition candidate carried the day (so there was no need to take a complaint to the OLMS). Now that the reformers have won and are beginning the process of shifting over from their defeated opponents, they must decide in Chernyshevsky’s words “what is to be done?”

The newly elected executive board of local 125, which is determined to address the problem of their designation, has obtained from the International a copy of the local’s charters; both the original one from 1901 and the more recent one concurrent with the merger that created BCTGM in 1999. According to the new Secretary-Treasurer, nowhere is it mentioned that local 125 is established as a factory chartered local, leaving the leadership in an informational limbo. The new executive board spearheaded by its new President has written the International President International to shed some further light on their status and how bound they are to it. No action or response has been forthcoming.

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