Should seats on a union’s national executive board be distributed equally–and by equally we mean based on a relatively equal number of members represented by each board member?  We looked around the fed sector recently and found that many unions do not do that.  In fact, some differences are huge, e.g., in one union a single board member represents only1,600 unit members while two others on the same union board represent over 10,000 each. Another example revealed that the employees of one bargaining unit get two board seats to represent its 19,000 members while the approximately 19,000 members of another unit in the same union got 7 seats on the national executive board. We even found an example of the employees in the same bargaining unit being treated quite differently with one geographic group given a board seat even though it had only one-third the number of unit members as the employees in another geographic area who also were given only one board seats.

To give you an idea of how disparities could impact members, we want to toss out one more example. Suppose the board was voting on whether to discipline or impeach a national officer of the union or on whether to merge with another union or any other serious matter. There is one union where four board members representing the majority of the union’s members could favor one resolution, but be out voted almost three to one on the national executive board by the other board members who represent only a minority of union members.
We realize that representational equality can mean different things. In the US Congress one house uses numerical equality as we have here while another gives each state two seats no matter what its size. Another approach might be to base the entitlement to board seats on the amount of dues money coming from a unit or some artificial configuration the union creates, e.g., every $2 million in annual dues entitles a group or unit to a board seats.  However, we are unaware of any concept of equality that would include the disparities we note above.
Nor are we aware of any Dept. of Labor ruling spelling out rules for how a union’s national executive board must be structured.  However, we could see the DOL requirements for a “fair and election” election process (29 CFR 458.29) as well as the requirement that all members have an equal right to participate in union deliberations (29 CFR 458.21) being the basis for challenging an unfair distribution of national executive board seats.
Absent DOL rules it is up to the union members to decide via their Constitution what is acceptable. Unfortunately it normally takes a 2/3s vote at a convention to chance constitutional rules–making it very hard for a simple majority of members who might want change to pass a change.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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