Is Your Union Constitution in Conflict?
(This article first appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Your local union constitution contains the fundamental principles by which the local is governed.
Federal law requires local unions to adopt a constitution that has been approved by the members. Section 201(a) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) states, “Every labor organization shall adopt a constitution and by-laws, and shall file a copy thereof with the Secretary [of Labor].”
Constitutions should address the following:
- Objectives and Mission
- Executive Board, Stewards and Committees
- Duties of Officers
- Salaries and Benefits (if any)
- Meetings and Quorum
- Dues and Fiscal Year
- Membership Protection
- Amendments and By-Laws
Although most local and state constitutions comply with the law, some constitutions contain outdated language or language that conflicts with the Department of Labor’s interpretation of the LMRDA or with the union’s national constitution.
Local or state constitutions are prohibited from violating federal or state laws or from conflicting with the constitution and by-laws of the national union.
Determining if there is a conflict requires a review of the national constitution. If a local constitution restricts rights found in the national constitution, the language is probably in conflict. If the language gives more rights to local members than the national constitution, it is generally not considered a conflict.
If language conflicts with a federal or state law or with the union’s national constitution, it can be removed or modified without applying the regular constitutional amendment procedures. Because the provisions are in conflict, they cannot be enforced and should be immediately corrected.
Please consult with the Secretary-Treasurer’s Department when making a determination if local constitutional language conflicts with federal or state law or with the APWU Constitution and By-Laws.
The following is language that frequently causes problems:
- The LMRDA requires local unions to elect delegates to state conventions by secret ballot if officers are elected at the conventions. Many locals have meeting requirements for eligibility to run for state delegate. The meeting requirements often disqualify too many members from running for office because members cannot attend the meetings; therefore, the Department of Labor has nullified some state delegate elections. We encourage locals to eliminate all meeting requirements for eligibility to run for state delegate. (This does not apply to delegates to APWU national conventions, because officers are not elected at our national convention.)
- Local and state unions should remove any “recall” language in their constitutions. Article 14 of the national APWU Constitution prohibits recall elections. If an officer has committed an offense, the officer can only be removed from office under the provisions of Article 15 of the national APWU Constitution.
- Many local and state constitutions outline detailed procedures for charging members with violations of their constitutions. All charges must be handled in accordance with the national APWU Constitution. We recommend that local and state unions delete any such language and substitute, “Member charges will be processed in accordance with Article 15 of the national APWU Constitution and By-Laws.”
- Any member of a local or state executive board must be elected to office by secret ballot or be an appointee to a vacant office that is filled by secret ballot election. Local constitutions should not include appointed positions on the executive board. Candidates for elected office who run without opposition are considered to have been elected to office.
- The following requirements apply to local and state officer elections:
- An election committee must be appointed to run the election.
- Advance notice of nomination meetings must be given.
- Notice that members may nominate themselves for office by mail must be given.
- Notice of nominations must be given, even if offices are uncontested.
- Notice of election must be given to all members at least 15 days prior to the election or the date ballots are mailed.
- The election committee may not censor campaign literature.
- The election committee must distribute campaign literature at the expense of candidates if requested to do so.
Locals and states also should review their constitutions to identify language that is outdated. We recommend convening a constitution committee to review the constitution and report to the executive board and membership on proposed changes.
The Secretary-Treasurer’s Department is available to assist local and state unions with changes to their constitution and by-laws. If changes are made, a copy should be submitted to the Department of Labor when filing the annual L-M report.