the newsletter of
CARPENTERS FOR A
at the cutting edge of union democracy
Issue 3 June 2000
Now is the time to shift gears and start developing the show. June is our month to develop media coverage, and July is the month for spreading it coast to coast. We have an issue of interest to working people of all vocations. UNION DEMOCRACY is more than a phrase. These words represent everything good about unions, and everything our forefathers worked so hard to develop in this experiment in governance. We, as workers, need to feel that the organization that acts as our agent, is responding to our concerns. We don't need our leadership to function in secret, saving the important information for themselves, and patronizing us by saying we can't understand. Other workers in other trades are experiencing similar authoritarian behavior, and they are responding to help us. We can build a movement to bring unions into a new era, in our lifetimes. We can grow our efforts dramatically when our non union brothers and sisters see us clean house and remodel it into a shinning example of workers taking control of their destiny. We are talking about a movement based on the principles that we all learned in school, before we found out that the "real world doesn't reward principled behavior."
ONE MEMBER /ONE VOTE is a simple slogan. When this principle is practiced on a wide scale, we will turn our organization around. We will see members voting on issues affecting them. Members voting directly on individuals for office, instead of voting for delegates, who then are lobbied with perks and employment opportunities in exchange for supporting the status quo. Members voting for the people who represent them to businesses. Members participating in contract negotiation, and having the final say on ratification. These simple steps will break the patronage system currently in use, and restore the vibrancy of an empowered membership. The members will chose the directions the organization takes, and be the force that implements the actions it decides on. Diluted representational democracy will give way to participation by the members. Our organizers and agents will number in the hundreds of thousands, and the market share bugaboo will disappear. No longer will our leadership use our powerlessness as a weapon against us, to maintain their position and perks.
We have all heard of political maneuvering in legislative bodies. We were given a textbook lesson at April's meeting. The art of filibuster and the use of stalling tactics wore down our members, who retired from the field of battle before our votes on issues came to the floor. We narrowly lost a meeting time change vote, to make our meetings more accessible, after 39 members left the hall We delayed discussion of amendments, because the hour was late and the crowd thinning out. The tactics of bending and stretching the rules are only marginally legal, and are an example of the low level of ethical behavior that prompted our caucus to form in the first place. Our leaders have so little respect for the members, that they choose to play games with us instead of acting in our interest. Important issues could have been discussed during the ballot printing for our delegate elections. Our chairman was able to switch back and forth between parts of the meeting to suit his needs. An attempt by the members, to have nominees explain their positions on issues was not allowed, even though we spent almost 3½ hours in the hall. Clearly, the interest of a large number of the members was not equal to the maintenance of the status quo.
The elected officials did break the bubble of acceptable and legal behavior when they incorrectly reported the minutes from the March meeting. By substituting the discussion of how to call a special meeting, with the actual motion that we passed, 66-1, the officials were able to avoid a federal lawsuit. This lawsuit was the next step in the process required by the constitution for those seeking redress for their grievances, and was going to be filed within a few weeks with the Department of Labor acting as the members' attorney. Through the willful act of changing the record of what took place in March, our leaders demonstrated to those present, that they feel they are above the will of the members, and beyond the reach of justice. Or maybe they just got caught and felt they had to wiggle out. We are seeing the same syndrome that has affected our big time politicians. After making mistakes, people in power go to great lengths to cover them up, and then make matters worse. We have seen our leaders acting in an increasingly defensive way.
WHAT ARE THEY HIDING AND PROTECTING?
This section debates issues of importance, with the understanding that dialogue is the key to an educated rank and file determining the course of their organization. The ground rules are : no personal attacks, ½ page per opinion, develop one detailed point of view.
Our agents and managers need to return to our sides to remember the conditions under which we work. They need to remember how we are treated by our bosses, how our trade is affected by the changes in the construction industry, and how other trades treat us. They need to know, first hand, how good our contract is. Are the wages and conditions they bargained for sufficient for them to live on? Are the trades around us getting a better deal? In our area, some electrician apprentices make more than carpenter foremen. If a negotiator is unaware of that fact, can he/she understand our frustrations?
Some areas have long time employees who are revered by the rank and file, and members want these leaders to stay in office forever. That's a very good state of affairs for them, an example of the existing system working. My concern is that new blood is not being trained to take up the reins. I also feel that new faces bring new perspectives, and that consideration of new ideas is always valuable.
I propose phasing in the concept of term limits. I see value in limiting every manager, officer, agent, and organizer to two consecutive terms (usually 3, 4, or 5 years) with a return to the ranks for at least one term before returning to any office. To make this concept work, terms for equivalent positions in an area would be staggered, and the terms would overlap by 6 months to allow the new officer to learn from the departing one.
We train each other in our job site skills, and I see no reason why we can't do the same for administrative skills. There may be problems with individual's performances, but we have that already. In an elected system, the members could remove someone at the next election. Perhaps, a provision for recall would also be desirable, to remove someone sooner, for gross failure to perform. I wish we had that power now.
Ultimately, the recycling of individuals through the administration will bring benefits to the whole. Just as teachers should be graded on how far their students surpass their own achievements, so should our leaders be graded on how well they share power, and develop new leaders. This is not the military. We do not need a top down pyramidal structure. We need a broad based rank and file, each member protecting the one on each side, as we walk together into he future. The democratic process takes a lot of work. Beneficial dictatorships work well .....for the dictator. We will harvest great rewards, in proportion to the energy we invest, in our organization.
MAY THE MEMBERS' WILL BE DONE
(ed. note: "Ajax" is a pseudonym for a member who wishes anonymity, and is the name of a Greek hero, who symbolizes great strength and love of democracy and family)
The question of term limits becomes moot if our paid office holders are examined frequently, and found competent to hold their positions. The disenfranchisement of the rank and file will be lessened by the two way flow of information regarding their officials.
Through representative democracy, we elect people to carry our beliefs forward. When limits are imposed, we risk a chance of loosing continuity, and the accumulated knowledge gained through longevity. Relationships develop over time with the contractors, and assist our negotiators when they bargain for us. As long as a review process is implemented, career employees are a fundamental need for our great union.
(ed. note: Rich is a candidate for the General Executive Board)
numbers that show up for monthly meetings. If we could turn out 50% of the membership I am certain that the rank and file would take over the controls of our union. This is the critical battle we must wage now and not stop until we prevail.
For those of you who don't know, Ultra is the computer system used by the International. Last week I had business with our Financial Secretary. As he was busy, I ducked into the dispatch office to wait. While I was there, I watched a secretary dispatching apprentices. I noticed that she had a strange looking browser open on her computer and asked about it. She told me it was "Ultra" and that all dispatches were routed through International. A couple of days later I went back to the hall to pay some dues and buy a T-shirt and a hat. The secretary in the finance office had the same browser running. She entered my information into it, I asked a few questions. I was told that the local unions no longer keep member information. The secretaries open Ultra when they start work and International monitors every keystroke. Any and all member business goes through International which keeps all records. I was told that International has every detail about every carpenter in the brotherhood. Who you work for, where you work, where you live, what your dues balance is, and your level of union activity. They enter in who attends demonstrations and rallies, who walks picket lines, you name it; they have it. I would say we have gone a little beyond micro management and straight to "Big brother is watching!"
There are rumors that McCarron is planning to take the union out of the AFL-CIO. What we've heard here on very good authority is that at the recent AFL-CIO legislative convention in Washington DC all the International presidents' names were introduced. When they got to McCarron, he was booed by the other Presidents. As anybody knows, this is totally unprecedented; it would be like one cop testifying against another. It's just not done.
The reason is, according to our sources, that the Carpenters are way behind in per capita dues to the AFL-CIO. The reason for this, is that McCarron is said to be planning to pull the Carpenters out of the AFL-CIO so that he can raid the other unions. It doesn't take much imagination to imagine what sort of fratricidal war this would set off. This sounds like an insane plan, but we have to realize that based on the "good council" of such types as Blum and Tudor, McCarron sees the Union as an employment agency. Under this concept, the other unions are nothing but business rivals.
I would like to illuminate four major phases of a master plan designed to subjugate the Carpenter work force. The plan will:
1) Restructure the rank-and-file Carpenters out of the political process, disenfranchise them.
2) Restructure the principles of labor supply. Recruit pools of labor and organize a universal association of employers.
3) Restructure the twice-undervalued Union real estate assets. Liquidate the real estate and put the money into other investments where it will bring a higher return for the benefit of those who now control the assets. (Bring about a realization of intrinsic value.)
4) Create a one-stop service organization for employers (a deal they can't say no to), and for carpenters (a deal they don't dare say no to).
5) Spread the restructuring to other trades and unions to include everyone.
For McCarron, the words below, also excerpted from paragraph A, Section 6, of the Carpenters Constitution, simply never existed.
"...The vested rights of the members shall be preserved and where action as herein described is taken, the General President and General Executive Board shall preserve the membership rights of the members of affected Local
Unions, including their right to attend and participate in meetings, to vote, to nominate candidates and to be nominated and run for office or business representative."
WHEREAS: Canadian carpenters should have the right to determine direction and destiny of their union in their country without imposition of an American dictatorship: and
WHEREAS: Under Bill 80 in Ontario, American unions are prevented from arbitrarily inflicting their will on their Canadian members:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters and all Local Unions lobby the Government of British Columbia for legislation
similar to but stronger than Ontario's Bill 80.
Submitted by Northwest British Columbia District Council
WHEREAS: The International continues to take away the democratic rights of carpenters all across North America; and
WHEREAS: The International spares no expense to obtain the restructuring model forced on the rest of the Brotherhood; and
WHEREAS: The monies that we sent the International in per capita tax is frightening, considering what we receive in return; and
WHEREAS: All we will become under the International is nothing more than a franchised labour broker:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters continue to defend the democratic rights of its members.
Submitted by Local Union 1995 Vancouver-New Westminster
This is a report on CDUI Chairman, Ken Little's, first leg of East Coast Organizing trip, in Philadelphia. One of our retirees volunteered to escort Ken around town with a list of jobs to hit. Ken estimates he talked to 200 - 300 carpenters that day. Thursday was our Regional Council Meeting. We had an Informational Hand billing outside for the Delegates. The reception was very positive from the delegates that were not on the Council payroll.
Ken's trip here was very successful. It was a big morale boost for my members, and it was an announcement to Councils and International what CDUI is doing.
When Ken comes to your area you might have to hold his hand.......to keep up!
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