Union Democracy Advocate J.J. Popio Elected Executive Secretary of Gasworkers 555

Just recently the Gas Workers Union, Local G555 in Ohio, which is affiliated with the UWUA (Utililty Workers of America, AFL-CIO), had its election for Executive Secretary/National Convention Delegate. Two of the candidates in the special election were J. J. Popio (a familiar name to regular UDR readers) and fellow member Deb Moffitt. The former was a District representative from Akron, Ohio who made waves in his union when he ran on strongly pro-union democracy platform, advocating deeper membership participation and greater access to information about the day to day business of the local. The latter was a member of the Gas Workers Union for over three decades, holding a variety of different positions within the governing bodies of the union.

Popio was originally elected as District Representative in 2016 and distinguished himself since then as an officer known to promote more democratic, membership-oriented practices. Popio’s main concern stems from the unfortunate fact of low member participation in union business (less participation resulting in an administration that does not address the issues of importance to the members). When he ran for Executive Treasurer in 2015, he was perturbed by the low voter turnout. Popio lost that race by a mere 35 votes, but with only 45 percent of the members voting. Inspired in part by Clyde Summers’ extensive work on union democracy, Popio later used the bully pulpit of his position to push for greater transparency and, especially, better rank-and-file knowledge of the LMRDA, the UWUA Constitution, Local G555 bylaws and Department of Labor rules and regulations. In one of his first acts as District Rep., Popio and his allies made certain the Union Members’ Bill of Rights was posted prominently on the local union cork boards at various work locations throughout Eastern Ohio, so that members would have ready access to the information.

But Popio’s victory and subsequent ascendency to the role of Executive Secretary of Local G555 was by no means assured as he faced off against Moffitt. She had received the endorsements of over thirty fellow officers in the local union and had a great deal of administrative experience, having served as either a steward, District Rep., or on a policy committee for most of her thirty years. Popio, on the other hand, proudly displayed his own favorite endorsement: a handwritten one on a fluorescent green post-it-note from one of his union brothers! The perceived imbalance was of little importance in the end, with Popio managing a victory over his opponent, running a campaign fueled by his record as both a union reformer and effective representative of the Akron District.

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