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Handouts you can use to promote union democracy
AUD encourages union members and officers to reproduce and distribute these handouts. Several Unions have published the first two handouts in their union newsletters. Rank and file activists have posted them on bulletin boards or handed them to coworkers. All we ask is that you give AUD credit and include our contact information.
Disclaimer: the information presented on this website is general and intended for educational purposes. It is not a substitute for practical legal advice on any specific situation.
Union Democracy makes unions stronger. The key to union democracy is an educated and active membership. This summary describes your rights under a Federal Law: the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). Several unions have printed this handout in their union newsletter, or posted it on union bulletin boards.
1. The Right
to Equal Participation in Your Union
NOTE: It is illegal for the union or the employer to retaliate against you, or threaten you, for exercising your rights under the LMRDA.
2. The Right to Essential Information
As a union member, you have the right to certain types of information:
NOTE: You are free to publish the information in the reports and documents described above.
3. The Right to Free Speech in Your Union
Your right to free speech in the union is very broad. You are free to:
NOTE: You can not be disciplined for free speech. However, if you advocate leaving the union, or changing unions, your speech may not be protected.
4. The Right to Free Assembly
Like your rights to free speech, your rights to organize with your coworkers to make changes in your union are very broad. You can:
NOTE: Be careful not to represent yourselves or your group as official union representatives if you are not.
Enforcing Your Legal Rights
Some parts of the LMRDA are enforced by the Department of Labor (Elections, Financial Reporting, Right to Information). Other rights you enforce through a lawsuit in Federal Court (free speech, free assembly, union discipline cases). Some rights can be enforced through State Court, also.
You may be required to "exhaust internal union procedures" before taking your case to the Department of Labor or Federal Court. This means you must first file an internal union protest or complaint, according to the procedures in your union bylaws/constitutioneven if you believe that this is a waste of time. If, after four months (three months for election complaints), the internal charges have not been resolved, or you want to challenge the result, you may take your complaint outside of the union. If you do not exhaust the internal procedures, the union can not discipline you, but the court or Department of Labor may dismiss your complaint.
Because the legal procedures are complex and have strict time limits, it is important to get advice. You may need a lawyer. Contact AUD:
La fuerza de la unión depende de que tan democrática es. La democracia dentro de la unión depende de que tan involucrados están los miembros y de los conocimientos que tienen sobre sus derechos dentro de su unión. A continuación aparece un resumen de los derechos que usted tiene como miembro de un unión bajo la ley federal llamada Ley Obrero-Patronal de Reportaje y Divulgación (Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA)
Los procedimientos legales son complejos y operan dentro de límites estrictos de tiempo. Por éso es importante que se asesore adecuadamente. Es posible que necesite un/a abogado/a. Póngase en contacto con AUD.
Derecho a participar en su unión
Ud. tiene derecho a participar en los asuntos internos de su unión.
Tiene derecho a:
Nota: La ley prohibe que la unión o el patrón lo/a amenacen o tomen represalias contra ud. por ejercer su derechos bajo el LMRDA.
Derecho a la libre expresión
Ud. tiene amplios derechos a la libre expresión en su unión.
Tiene derecho a:
Nota: Está prohibido que lo/la disciplinen por hacer uso de su derecho a la libre expresión. Sin embargo, expresiones que abogan por salirse o cambiarse de unión no están protegidas por la ley.
Derecho a la libre asociación
Al igual que con sus derechos a la libre expresión, sus derechos a organizarse con sus compañeros para introducir cambios en la unión son muy amplios.
Ud. tiene derecho a:
Nota: Asegérese de no presentarse como representante oficial de la unión si no lo es.
Derecho a obtener información básica
Como miembro de la unión, ud. tiene derecho a los siguientes tipos de información sobre su unión:
Nota: Ud. tiene el derecho a publicar/distribuír la información provista en esos documentos.
Como poner en vigor sus derechos
Algunos aspectos de la la ley LRMDA (tales como elecciones, reportes de finanzas, derecho a obtener información) son puestos en vigor por el Departamento de Trabajo (Labor Department). Otros derechos (tales como a la libre expresión y asociación y a procesos justos) se ponen en vigor a través de una demanda legal ante la corte federal y, en otros casos, ante la corte estatal.
Puede ser que antes de llevar su caso ante el Departamento de Trabajo o la corte federal, sea necesario que ud. "exahuste los procedimientos internos de la unión". Esto quiere decir que primero debe archivar una protesta o queja dentro de la unión siguiendo los procedimientos de la constitución o reglamentos de su unión, aunque esté convencido/a que es una pérdida de tiempo.
Si después de cuatro meses de haberlo hecho (tres meses en el caso de protestas electorales) no ha habido decisión alguna sobre la protesta o ud. decide retar la decisión, puede tomar acción fuera de la unión. Si no cumple con los procedimientos de la uniónes internos, es posible que la corte o el Departamento de Trabajo rechacen su protesta.
Democracy makes unions stronger. The key to union democracy is an educated, informed, and active membership. Fortunately, you have legal rights that protect internal union activity, including activity that takes place online. This summary describes your rights under a Federal Law: the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) as they apply to online activism.
1. The Right to Participate in Your Union
You have the right as a union member to participate in union affairs, including meetings and elections. This means you have the right to:
NOTE: It is illegal for the union or the employer to retaliate against you, or threaten you, for exercising your rights under the LMRDA. Participation in union activities is subject to reasonable rules and procedures.
2. The Right to Essential Information
As a union member, you have the right to certain types of information, much of which is available online:
NOTE: You are free to publish and distribute, in print and electronic form, the information in the reports and documents described above.
3. The Right to Free Speech
Your right to free speech about union affairs (in the union and in public) is very broad and includes e-mail and web speech. You are free to:
NOTE: You can be disciplined if you advocate "decertifying" -- leaving the union, or changing unions -- or for violations of the union constitution that are not otherwise protected by the law.
4. The Right to Free Assembly
Like your rights to free speech, your rights to organize with your coworkers are very broad. Among other things, you can:
NOTE: Be careful not to represent yourselves, your group, or your website as official union representatives if you are not. Do not use computers or other resources that belong to your employer, or to the union. In union elections, an employer--anyone who employs at least one other person--is prohibited from contributing to a candidate or campaign.
Enforcing your Rights
The LMRDA applies to private sector union members and some federal employees, and includes union bodies that represent a mix of public and private sector workers. Public sector workers often have the same protections in other forms, through state laws or regulations, or through case law.
Some parts of the LMRDA are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (elections, financial reporting, right to information). Other rights you enforce through a lawsuit in Federal Court and/or State Court (free speech, free assembly, union discipline cases).
You may be required to "exhaust internal union procedures" before taking your case to the Department of Labor or Federal Court. This means you must first file an internal union protest or complaint, according to the procedures in your union bylaws/constitutioneven if you believe that this is a waste of time. If, after four months (three months for election complaints), the internal charges have not been resolved, or you want to challenge the result, you may take your complaint outside of the union. If you do not exhaust the internal procedures, the union can not discipline you, but the Court or Department of Labor may dismiss your complaint.
The web is a new area for activism and law. This summary is only a rough guide. Because the legal procedures are complex and have strict time limits, it is important to get advice. You may need a lawyer. Contact AUD:
of Basic Principles of Democratic Organizing
"The practice of democracy in organizing is the organizing of democracy in practice." This checklist is designed to raise issues for organizers and activists. It is incomplete and debatable -- you will want to add your own principles, or change some that are here. Use this checklist to see if you are doing all you can to make your organizing democratic and participatory.
1. Do you work with others?
Organizing means working together to make
2. Do you question authority?
You want people to think and use their judgment.
3. Do you confront management?
You want people to "speak truth to
4. Do you spread information, knowledge, and skills?
Give people the information they need, or--better yet--teach them how to get it for themselves. Do you know how to get union officers' salaries? A copy of the contract? Answers about members' legal rights? Do you know how to file, investigate, and present grievances? How to run a job action? How to plan and run a meeting? Your group should be a school for organizing. Do not hoard knowledge or information, even if takes time to spread it out.
5. Do you get people involved in collective activity?
We learn how to act collectively by doing it. Start where people are and escalate--from wearing a sticker, to signing a petition, to filing a grievance, up to bigger job actions--always working together.
6. Do you use creativity and make organizing fun?
Use cartoons, songs, costumes, contests for supervisor who commits most contract violations per shiftappeal to your coworkers sense of creativity and humor. Ridicule can be a powerful weapon for undermining your employer's agenda.
7. Do you practice democracy within your group?
This is what democracy looks like. Use your meetings and actions to give people a working example of democracy. Encourage people to think, question, challenge each other, but also to reach decisions, take actions, and follow-up. Practice group-centered leadership -- where leaders help others participate and contribute to build a strong group.
8. Do you bring in potential activists?
There are different levels of knowledge and involvementfrom the core activist, to the regular activists, to the passive supporters. Get your regular activists to play a more central role, and bring your supporters into some kind of activity. When you plan an action, think about who you want to reach and how you can bring them closer. Core activists need to turn over some of their work as the group grows.
9. Do you build dialogue and unity across potential divisions?
Inequality and democracy do not mix. Employers will try to split you up by race, gender, language, sexual orientation, job title, whatever they can find. The goals and priorities of your group and its activists and leaders need to include every group of workers. What issues do you share? Do you include people from the different groups in planning, organizing, leading, and taking action? Do you speak one-on-one with people in each group?
10. Do you talk to coworkers one-on-one?
Use one-on-one all the time. By talking person-to-person, you build relationships and learn about people's concerns, interests, and skills. One-on-one is mostly asking questions and listening. Make it part of everything you do: give a person a flyer and talk with her about it, instead of dumping a pile of flyers on a table.
11. Do you organize the organizers?
You will need to organize the one-on-one contact so that one person is not trying to talk one-on-one to fifty people. Make a list of members, divide it up, and recruit people to talk one-on-one to a set number of workers, then report back. Keep a database of members with phone number, e-mail, address, job, shift, etc. and a note about their interests and talents. Use your network to spread the work around -- you will create more leaders and avoid burning out your core group.
12. Do you think strategically and act methodically?
Be aware of every part of organizing: brainstorming, analyzing, planning, assigning tasks, acting, and evaluating. Take the time to set clear goals for the long term, medium term and short term. Discuss the advantages and risks of actions you are planning. Have a backup plan. Be "SMART", make sure every task is Specific, Measurable, Assigned to a person, Realistic, and Time-specific. After the action, assess your work and set new goals.
13. Do you pay attention to roles?
Look at your group: Who decides? Who acts? Who has information? Who asks questions? Who answers? Who makes the plans? Who does the boring or interesting work? Who learns or teaches? Who is at the meeting? Who speaks for the group? The more people do, the stronger they become.
(from AUDs Manual for Survival for Women in Nontraditional Employment)
It is not easy to be one of a few women doing work that has traditionally been reserved for men. You may experience isolation and hostility, not just from management, but even from some of the men within your union who should be a source of support. The old boys network may be very much alive in your union. Women of color and lesbians may experience added discrimination and harassment. By getting together with other women in the union, you can gain the support you need to survive the stresses of life on the job. As part of a women's committee or caucus, you can overcome your individual powerlessness and fight effectively for equal treatment and responsive leadership in your union...
here to read the rest of this handout.
AUD drafted this Bill of Rights for discussion at the AUD National Conference on Union Democracy in the Building Trades, November 8th and 9th, 2002, in Brooklyn, New York. We encourage construction unionists to circulate and post this document for discussion and debate, and to forward responses to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is our hope that construction unionists will embrace and promote these principles in their unions. (Last updated: 1/3/03; contact AUD for 11 x 17 inch poster version.)
1. No more "right
2. A fair hiring system.
3. Strong job stewards
and a grievance procedure which protects workers from retaliation.
4. Direct elections:
one member one vote.
5. Right to vote on contracts.
6. Let our members know!
7. Equal treatment for
At the same time, when work is slow in their own locality, union members must be protected in their right to seek jobs where the demand for labor is high. Travelers should receive full protection of their rights under the contract as all others. After living and working for an extended period in their new locality, they should be eligible for membership with full rights in the local under whose jurisdiction they have been working.
8. Strengthen the right
to run for office.
9. Freedom from corruption.
Please post this notice
widely. (Copies available upon request.)
We do not maintain a list of "AUD-certified" democratic unions. We feel that judgment is best left in the hands of union members themselves, the people most familiar with the real workings of the institution. Visit the rank-and-file sites on our links page to see how various unions measure up in the eyes of some of their members.
But, we like the idea of union democracy benchmarks, so we put together the following checklist. Warning! This list has many limitations; we welcome your feedback.
AUD's Union Democracy Benchmarks (updated 8/12/02)
The AUD Union Democracy checklist is not exhaustive -- we have undoubtedly left out items that in a given set of circumstances could be critically important.
Many of the items on the list are subject to legitimate debate -- is it always more democratic to have elected business agents? Are direct elections by members always better than delegated elections?
It is possible for a union to meet many of these benchmarks in form, but not in substance, for example holding regular union meetings that really only serve to rubber stamp decisions already made by the officers. The reverse is also possible, a union's officers might do a fine job of representing members even in the absence of certain democratic practices or rules.
There are principles that are important to the union movement that are not strictly speaking union democracy issues: whether to oppose concessions, how much to prioritize new organizing, the role of unions in politics. This list is about what makes a union democratic, not about what union members should use that democracy for.
A union does not become democratic once and for all, but rather as a result of constant vigilance and struggle.
The checklist is neither our ultimate wish list, nor just the bare legal minimum. (See our summary of legal requirements.) It assumes that your union is already meeting its legal obligations under federal, state and local law. This checklist is intended to spark your thinking on the subject.
To file complaints with government agencies you must contact them and, usually, go to the local or regional office. See the AUDLinks page on this site for internet addresses for government agencies. For a listing of agencies in your area, consult the government listings in your phone book, call information, or use the links on the AUDLinks page to get a listing of state agencies. For some violations, you may need to file a civil lawsuit in state or federal court. Call or e-mail AUD for assistance and possible referrals 718-564-1114 , email@example.com.
The following is a list for workers in New York City. We suggest you make up a list for your area, using the phone book, a local librarian, or the internet. (See the AUDLinks page on this site for good leads.)
National Labor Relations
Board (organizing, contract negotiations, unfair labor practices)
Federal Labor Relations
Board (for Federal Employees)
U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Labor Management
Standards (financial reports, constitutions, election protests)
Wage and Hour Division (unpaid wages,
Office of Pension and Welfare Benefits
Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA)
Asbestos Control Bureau of Enforcement
U.S. Equal Employment
New York State Division of Human Rights
NYS Harlem Office Building
New York City Commission on Human Rights
New York State Agencies
Public Employment Relations
State Labor Relations Board
NYC Office of Collective Bargaining
Workers Compensation Board
Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board
New York City Department of Environmental
New York State Department of Law, Labor
Page designed by Matt Noyes, National
Writers Union/UAW, and Rachel Szekely
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