UE locals are the most important part of our union. As autonomous bodies, chartered by the National UE, all locals are responsible for defending UE members and advancing the needs of the membership on the job and through political action. High levels of membership participation are encouraged and made possible by the structure of our local unions.
Constitution and By-Laws
Each local adopts its own constitution, written and ratified by the members. The constitution spells out the rights and duties of the membership, how the local will be governed, and how the local’s activities will be financed. Every member is welcome to read and become familiar with the local constitution and, if necessary, propose changes.
The only requirement: UE local constitutions cannot be in conflict with the constitution of the National Union, especially in the areas of union democracy, finances, and the right of all workers to belong to the union—regardless of skill, age, sex, nationality, color, race, religious or political belief or affiliation, sexual orientation, disability or immigration status. The reason? If union democracy is corrupted by excluding groups of workers from membership, true rank-and-file control is also destroyed—and bosses are given yet another tool with which they can divide workers.
Regular membership meetings are held where the rank-and-file acts on all matters affecting the operation of the local. This includes everything from the election of officers, to collective bargaining, to the decision to call—or end—a strike.
UE Members Vote:
- on their own collective bargaining policy and strategy (everything from developing contract demands to defending the members);
- on all agreements with employers;
- to strike, not to strike, or end a strike;
- to elect all local officers, stewards, and trustees;
- to elect their own negotiating committee;
- to elect delegates to Regional Council meetings and UE National Conventions;
- on their local union finances;
- on legislative and political action programs;
- to decide all issues affecting their UE Local.
Each local union elects its own officers who make up the local Executive Board. Any member in good standing is eligible to run for office. Most UE locals hold elections for officers every year (at most, every two years).
The Executive Board is responsible for directing the activities of the local between membership meetings by carrying out policies adopted by the members.
Trustees, acting independently of the Executive Board, are also elected. Their duty is to safeguard the members’ dues by regularly checking the local’s finances. Full reports are made by the trustees at membership meetings.
The Steward System
UE stewards are the backbone of our union—our “first line of defense.” Stewards are elected—never appointed (as in some other unions)—to actively fight for the rights of UE members on the job. As the main link between the members and their union, UE stewards play a crucial role in building unity and involvement—and maintaining the rank-and-file nature of UE.
Bosses have never liked strong steward systems and, indeed, many unions have agreed over the years to replace their workplace representatives with centralized and bureaucratic “grievance handlers.” We’ve fought attempts to limit the number of UE stewards and have retained the best steward-to-member ratio of any union.
The members elect stewards to:
- Help enforce the contract in the workplace;
- Maintain a strong union organization;
- Fight grievances with the employer by organizing the members;
- Keep the membership fully informed of the union’s program and activities.
Before negotiating with an employer, the local union develops a collective bargaining program which is discussed and ratified by the membership. Every member has a right to raise issues for consideration in negotiations. Local negotiating committees are elected by the members to bargain with the boss.
No agreement with an employer can take effect without ratification by the membership. Strikes can only be called after a majority of the members vote to take such action. In each case, the decision is up to the local UE membership. Unlike most other unions, the National Union cannot force a local to accept or reject a contract, go on strike, end a strike, or withhold strike benefits to force a settlement. Likewise, local leaders cannot make these decisions without a vote by the membership.
A negotiating committee elected by the membership presents the union’s proposals and bargains with the employer. The committee keeps the membership informed about negotiations. There are no closed-door negotiations or “information blackouts” during negotiations. We don’t use lawyers to negotiate contracts, either. Why?
We believe that the members—not outside “experts”—are in the best position to argue about their wages, benefits and working conditions—and only an organized, unified, and informed membership can win gains in these areas. No negotiator, no matter how gifted, can “make the boss give in” on something he or she doesn’t want to. A unified membership can—and does. UE locals regularly win better contract settlements than those of unions in comparable workplaces.
Members elect delegates to attend Regional Council meetings and the union’s National Convention. These meetings are impressive because of their genuine rank-and-file nature—only elected UE members can debate and vote on issues affecting the union.
Unlike many other unions, UE staff are not assigned to represent the members at either of these gatherings.
(Note: Since all UE field staff are dues-paying members of a UE local, it is possible—but unlikely—that a member of the staff could be elected as a local union delegate. The structure of the union does, however, make it impossible for the national union or regions to assign delegate status to a staff member.)
Making Democracy Work
The Responsibilities of Membership
Since UE’s programs and policies are designed to improve the living standards of our members, each member is directly tied to the success of the union. But our style of rank-and-file unionism can only be maintained if each UE local member, steward, and officer is actively involved. Important areas of participation include:
- Electing local delegates and encouraging interested officers, stewards, and members to attend each Regional Council meeting and National Union convention;
- Helping stewards do their jobs, especially by showing solidarity and building unity in our workplaces;
- Serving on a local committee and attending membership meetings. Propose ideas that will improve the union’s work in carrying out UE policy. Discuss resolutions that can be brought to the Regional Council and National Convention—every member has the right and obligation to help formulate UE’s policies;
- Making sure that full reports of Regional Council meetings and the National Convention are made to the membership;
- Helping in UE organizing campaigns. Members can speak from experience, with honesty, about the union—a powerful message to workers who are considering joining UE.