The Labor Movement can be a great force for democracy, social progress, and social justice. To fulfill that potential, it must be thoroughly democratic in its internal life. There is no effective substitute for strong, democratic unions to help workers achieve dignity and respect, to defend and increase their standard of living, and to fight for better, safer, conditions in the workplace. There is no substitute for internal union democracy to combat discrimination, fight racketeering, get rid of corruption, and oust self-serving officials. In many unions democratic rights are real and unquestioned, but in large sections of the US labor movement these rights are trampled upon and must be restored.
Union Democracy Benchmarks:
* Fair elections that promote participation. Union goes beyond the minimum DOL requirements for elections (see links below): provides more time for nominations and campaigning, union representatives encourage members to run for office. All members in good standing eligible to run; no continuous good standing or meeting attendance requirements. No ban on non-member contributions (except employers and unions) to candidates for union office. Officers back members’ right to time off for campaigning. If necessary, elections run by legitimate outside agency.
* Frequent, contested elections. More than minimum required by law; members regularly challenge incumbents; there is turnover in officers and representatives.
* Access to membership list. In elections, candidates have access to membership list (name, work location, phone, e-mail) for campaign purposes, including right to copy the list.
* Open publications. Local newsletter/website publishes members’ views, including those critical of officials, representatives, or union policy; union encourages debate and discussion of issues and candidates. In elections, all candidates have equal use of union publications and means of communication (website, newsletter, e-mail list) to put out their campaign material.
* Member ratification of contracts. All contracts and side agreements between the union and management subject to ratification by secret ballot by members covered by the contract.
* Strike votes. Members vote on striking, on return to work, and on other decision during strike; strike votes not used to force members to ratify contracts (“either you vote “yes” or you vote to strike”).
* Informed vote. Complete text of proposed contract changes, amendments, referenda, etc. distributed to members prior to ratification with sufficient time for meaningful membership review and discussion. Union circulates different opinions about the contract offer.
* Elected representatives. Shop stewards and business agents elected, secret ballot, by members they represent, subject to recall by members they represent; stewards and active members trained in legal rights and organizing; stewards council that meets to plan and coordinate action.
* Grievants’ bill of rights. Workers participate fully in the grievance process at every step, with full information about their case and its progress.
* Access to information. Union representatives give members current and complete copies of the contract and the union constitution/bylaws. Contract and Constitution are published on union website. Members have easy access to information on officers’ salaries, budget, and expenses. Union representatives regularly inform members of their rights under federal and state law, and how to enforce them, including rights and responsibilities under the LMRDA.
* Regular local meetings. At least quarterly; announced ahead of time; time and place convenient to members; agenda circulated in advance; real business conducted, not just a pep rally; members encouraged to speak, make proposals, vote, and ask questions. Reasonable quorum (not so high as to prevent member meetings). Minutes available to members.
* Independent organizing and communication. Members organize in independent committees and caucuses, publish rank-and-file newsletters and websites, run candidates for union office. Union officers encourage this.
* Inclusion and equality. All members are treated fairly; union fights discrimination by management and among members; officers and representatives reflect membership in terms of gender, race, language, craft, seniority, etc. Contracts, Constitution, meetings, publications translated into languages spoken by members.
* Education for members. Union trains members in legal rights and organizing, including how to participate effectively in the union and how to organize on the job