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October 14, 2003

Union Democracy in Carpenters

Based on this Appeals Court decision last year, the New England Council of Carpenters has been ordered by a district court to conduct direct ballot elections for its leadership

In the last decade, the Carpenters has increasingly moved core power from its decentralized locals to regional bodies. In many ways, this was a needed change-- organizing resources are hard to coordinate when divided between many locals and taking on industry often needs more centralized coordination.

But under federal law, only "local" labor organizations are required to hold direct elections. The question the Appeals Court largely answered (and the district court confirmed) was whether formerly "intermediate bodies" (groupings of locals like regional councils) essentially become "local" bodies almost all the de facto powers of the locals are transferred to them. In the Carpenters, the crucial change was that most staff were no longer hired by locals but by the regional councils.

Currently, individual members of the Carpenters directly elect delegates to regional councils, and it's the delegates who elect the overall council leadership. With the new court ruling, members will be able to directly vote on electing council leadership.

I generally favor greater centralization of union bodies, but increased democratic accountability of those bodies needs to follow that centralization. So this decision is a good one for the labor movement.

rawblogXport has more.

Posted by Nathan at October 14, 2003 10:07 AM