I think itís important to preface this article by clarifying that I do not have any ill-will towards OPEIU International President Goodwin nor do I have any ill-will towards any other officers within the international.
I would like to address the idea of changing the process in which OPEIU international union officers are elected. Currently, these officers are elected by a vote of delegates who attend the internationalís tri-annual conventions. The delegates to this convention are comprised of appointed representatives from each local union and have one vote per one-hundred dues-paying members that are in their local union.
I suggest that, rather than our unionís international officers being elected via a process that consists of international officers being elected by delegates who are appointed by officials whom are elected by members of their local unions which distances individual members from directly choosing their international officers and influencing international policies.
The reason that I suggest this change is in response to the democracy/representative democracy class discussions I was involved within during my recent Future of Labor and Work course at the National Labor College. The class as a whole seems to agree, based on our readings, that members of labor unions are likely to be more engaged in the processes of their labor union when we are able to be involved in decisions of our international (such as elections of officers whom determine the path of the union as a whole); we feel as though what we think matters. When we have that voice we tend to think of the union less as a "third party" and identity with it more as something of which we are an important part.
When, in our local union, we have over 4,000 members who work at Kaiser Permanente but only 400 of them voted on our current contract, I wonder how many of them feel like I do...unwelcome and uninvolved. We need to do things differently and one of them should be allowing each member the opportunity to choose his/her representatives. If I'm wrong then nothing new should be done and we should just write off the 90% of members who aren't active now and determine that they will never be active regardless of what we do or try; but what then? How strong are we and will we ever be in our places of employment or in our communities or in supporting pro-worker legislation? How will it affect our strength if California (where the majority of our local unionís membership live and work) were to become a right-to-work-for-less state? -You can't say it could never happen after seeing that it did happen in Michigan. How much of the 90% who don't participate will still continue to financially support the union through dues if they no longer have to?
The OPEIU and other unions are acknowledging that change in the culture of the labor movement is necessary; one example is the relationships the OPEIU has created with professional associations and guilds that have been affiliating with the OPEIU for years. During AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's speech at the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, he made it clear that the AFL-CIO is committed to change such as working together with community-based organizations and inviting them to participate in local labor councils. But, when we have such low internal participation, internal change needs to occur too.
Changes to the OPEIU constitution may be made:
ďAmendments to this Constitution can be made only by a
two-thirds (2/3) vote of a Convention, subject to the provisions
of Article XIV, Section 12. Unless otherwise provided
for, amendments shall become effective upon adoption.Ē
Basically the membership would need two-thirds of the convention delegates to vote against themselves (as elected and/or appointed delegates of the convention) continuing to have the sole responsibility for voting for officers of the international union and that, instead, each member of the union should have the opportunity to participate.
If you believe this idea to transform our representative democracy into democracy is something that could increase member participation and increase member solidarity email me so, together, we can determine the next steps.