JJ Popio was recently elected as Akron (Ohio) District Representative of the Gas Workers Union, Local G555, UWUA AFL-CIO in the spring of 2017, by a comfortable margin of the vote. Mr. Popio ran on a platform of reform, alleging that the Gasworkers needed to become more transparent in their union business and more responsive to the needs of the membership.
Popio has a history of activism in his local. In May 2015, Popio ran in a special election for Executive Treasurer of his local’s E-Board (details of his experience are expounded upon by Popio himself in Union Democracy Review 207). Candidate Popio fought the good fight in an election that by his own admission, was a “clean race” and bore no ill will towards his opponent, whom he was glad to congratulate. But Popio found it poignant that only 45% of the voting eligible union membership voted, particularly since he lost by only 35 ballots. He consulted the work of AUD co-founder Clyde Summers and was heartened by Summers’ admonition it is the fact of the contested election that does most for union democracy, not whether a reformer actually wins office. (see Democracy In a One Party State: Perspective from Landrum-Griffin).
Popio, bolstered by a firm hope to create a more participatory and, therefore, more democratic union would not go quiet into that good night. But rather than simply refueling for the next Executive Committee Election, Popio began doing his homework. While remaining a proud member of his local, Popio felt that rules and regs regarding elections, in particular, were often left vague by the administration.
Worse, when the rules regarding elections were spelled out, Popio feared that a particular requirement regarding meeting attendance may, in fact, stifle membership participation:
“It is further provided that candidates for any elective office must have attended their District’s regular monthly meetings for at least one-half of the stated meetings one (1) year preceding nominations. Provided, however, that when any member who is unable to attend a regular monthly meeting due to a valid excuse, so notifies the Chairman of his District in writing no later than five (5) days after said meeting, he shall be recorded in the minutes of the meeting as being in attendance.”
Popio was unconvinced by the confidence with which this measure had previously been enforced and made certain the membership was aware of the attendance requirement. Under the scrutiny of a watchful membership, the meeting attendance rule was waived in Utility Workers Local G-555. The Election Committee Chair announced that the local would not enforce the local’s meeting attendance requirement, pending a bylaws review to take place in the near future. In a January 30 letter to the members, the Election Committee Chair stated that:
“In consulting with our Local and National’s legal counsel, as well as our National’s Regional Rep and the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, we have decided NOT to enforce the meeting requirement. It is our belief that there is a possibility that Article X Section 3 of the By-Laws may be contradictory to the DOL regulations regarding requirements that would exclude a significant amount of members in good standing. DOL regulations would supersede anything in our By-Laws, so rather than risk a challenge of the results of this election, we have chosen instead not to enforce that rule and we will have the By-Laws Committee look to address this issue in the near future.”
The Chair went on to say;
“…changes to the way previous elections were conducted were well researched and were made to allow a larger number of our members the ability to participate in the election process. The Election Chair believes these improvements to our election process will allow for highest voter turn-out in the history of our Local. Please take the time to exercise your right as a Union member and participate in the election process.”
Popio said the election committee chair told him that he was committed to “the most fair and democratic elections we’ve ever run.” Popio heartened as he was by Clyde Summers’ argument about the importance of contested elections in the labor movement, decided to make another go at it in the upcoming e-board elections.
This time, the young candidate was triumphant, getting elected as District Representative of his 116 member shop with a 66% of the vote (at 29, one of the youngest elected officers in the locals 80 year history). The job is a constitutional officer position that sits on the local union executive committee i.e. the governing body. Pursuant to his promise to make the local more reform-minded, Popio has prominently posted the union members’ bill of rights as per the Landrum-Griffin Act in the shop, for both rank and file and officers to see/refer to. Popio and his fellow Local G555 Communications Committee members posted the union members’ bill of rights as per the LMRDA, at www.g-555.com for both the rank and file members and officers to see/refer to.