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From the May 2009 issue of $100 Plus Club News #115
Can local union elections be run more democratically?
by Kevin Condy
Kevin Condy, active CWA member and AUD supporter, recently wrote a report for his senior project at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies, "Local Union Elections-Can They Be Run More Democratically?" (Fall, 2008). Condy surveyed fellow union members' knowledge of their democratic rights, focusing on two specific groups of workers - "outside technicians," -- union members that respond to problems onsite, and "inside technicians" or union members who do most of their work from a company's office. Condy's discoveries are interesting, but troubling. Here are a few excerpts from his paper.
"The [CWA] members were asked if they were aware that the LMRDA required every Local Labor organization to elect its officers no less often than once every three years. Sixty-eight percent of the total number of respondents answered "no." These results were markedly different when coming from an inside technician or an outside technician. Three out of four inside technicians, 75% said that they were not aware of this requirement. In contrast, the outside technicians answered the same question with 50% answering "yes" and the other 50% answering, no." Condy notes, "This clearly shows a lack of knowledge of the federal law that ensures basic standards of democracy and a need for education."
Condy continues, "...when the question dealt with the members' knowledge with regard to their Local's election process, the inside technicians seemed more confident. On a scale of 1 thru 4, with 1 being more knowledgeable, 82% of the inside technicians answered evenly divided between "1" and "2". The outside technicians' responses were more evenly spread out.. Starting on a sliding scale of one through four, the outside technicians' responses were 27%, 38%, 23% and 12% respectively. Although the results for this question are better, it could still be improved. Giving members the details with regard to the election process is essential if members are expected to participate. It is especially true for the field technicians. With 35% describing themselves as being on the lower edge of a scale with regard to knowledge of the election process it is evident that there needs to be improvement in disseminating this information.
"With regard to their belief that their Local's current election system for Executive Board gives all members an equal chance to be elected, the response from the inside and outside workforce were polar opposites. Eighty percent of the inside technicians answered "no" 70% of the outside technicians answered "yes". When the question was asked of the membership if they believed that the current election system in place favored the incumbents unfairly, the results of the responses were almost identical to the previous question. Again, the difference between the technician groups was stark. For the outside technicians it was 65% "no" and 27% "yes" while the inside technicians responded 75% "yes" and 12% "no". Apparently there is a major difference of opinion with regard to fairness... Having a large percentage of the membership in disagreement over an important issue such as fairness indicates an underlying problem. Whether it is true or not, perception becomes reality. Tackling the perception that the system is unfair and/or unjust is difficult but must be dealt with. Distrust and the belief that their governing body is unfair and/or unjust may potentially lead to alienation of the membership and having them looking for alternatives to the union."
Condy concludes, "It is evident that members need more education with regard to the election process as well as federal law that governs it. They envision an election administered by an independent organization in charge of all aspects of the election. This would add transparency and reassure the membership that a free and fair election was taking place within their local. In anticipation of these and other reforms, a member in good standing running in a local union officers' election must be vigilant to ensure an honest, fair and democratic election. Can local union elections be held more democratically? YES!"
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