Association for Union Democracy

Running for office in Gas Workers Local G555, Northeast Ohio

In late May of 2015, an executive board vacancy occurred for the office of Executive Treasurer in my local, Gas Workers Union, Local G555, headquartered in Northeast Ohio. A special election was ordered to be done by mail in secret ballot.

I decided to run because I studied union administration at a national labor college and I thought I could help make my union more effective. My colleagues and I also had some internal expense policy concerns.

I was nominated at seven membership meetings across our large geographic local union by rank and file members. We drew up a campaign plan, received contributions from members, used vacation time to visit work locations to distribute campaign literature, purchased stamps, mailed out 1180 postcards printed by a union label print shop. I was endorsed by a few national union leaders and most important, I talked with local union members via Facebook, phone, text message and email on a daily basis about issues that mattered to them. This was a solid election campaign. I enjoyed the travel and all the conversations with my co-workers.
On the day of the vote count I met the election committee and the American Arbitration Association at the post office to observe the ballot pick up and the ballots were taken to the union office where I observed the count. About 45% of the membership voted in this special election. Participation was down about 20% from the regularly scheduled election last fall. I ended up losing the election 285 to 250. I congratulated my opponent, thanked the election committee for their service, spoke with our President for a few minutes and then left. After talking with several members things started to calm down so I decided to sit down and read.
I found an article titled “Democracy in a One-Party State” by Professor Clyde Summers, one of the chief architects in union election/democracy law (and a co-founder of AUD – Ed.). The following words really hit home with me:

At the end of the campaign, when the votes are counted, the tabulation does more than decide the winner. Although the incumbent wins, the tabulation measures the level of discontent among the members. If one third of the members vote for the insurgents in spite of the advantages favoring the incumbents, this signals a level of dissatisfaction far beyond what the officers believed to exist or want to continue. Practices and policies may be modified to meet the criticism and lower the level of discontent. Although the incumbent oligarchy stays in power, it becomes responsive to the election returns. The greater the opposition vote, the greater the responsiveness.

The central point is that the usefulness of union elections is not measured solely by the frequency with which the incumbents are unseated, although the more often this happens the more responsive union officers will be. The usefulness of elections lies 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.

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