January Is the Month to Change Your Bylaws

Teamster members can win new rights by changing your local’s bylaws. In most locals January is the time to act.

Over the years, members have won many new rights by changing their bylaws, including:

  • The right to elect stewards
  • Rank-and-file members on contract negotiating committees, and rank-and-file access to bargaining proposals
  • Salary caps for local union officers and local organizing funds
  • Mail-in ballots for local union elections
  • Access to benefit information from their local union trustees

The bylaws are the constitution of your local union. They define the rights and responsibilities of members, they say how elections will be run, and they set the powers for your officers.

Winning Better Elections

“Under a previous administration, many members didn’t think their vote counted when we were voting on our contract,” said Craig Karnia, a UPS steward in Local 705 in Chicago.

“We put forward a bylaws amendment that said we would have rank-and-file observers at the vote count on our contract,” Karnia said. “We won it, and now more members have faith in the whole voting process. We had a massive turnout in the last vote on our contract.”

Over the years, Local 705 members have won more rights this way, including their own strike fund to supplement the International strike fund.

January: The Time to Act

In many locals, members can only introduce new bylaws proposals in January.

Members must present the proposed changes at a union meeting. After members present a proposed change, it must be read at three consecutive union meetings.

At the third meeting, members will get a chance to vote on the changes. To win your changes, you’ll need to turn out your supporters to the third meeting. Some bylaws require a two-thirds majority to amend.

Get the Wording Right

Since bylaws are legally binding documents, it’s important to get the language in your proposal right. In some cases, Hoffa has vetoed reforms approved by local union members because of language technicalities. TDU can help. We have copies of language that have been approved by the IBT and lawyers who can review your proposals before you run into a challenge.

What It Takes to Win

When you’re trying to change your bylaws, there’s a good chance you’ll face opposition. What can you do to overcome the opposition and win these changes?

Pick an issue and focus on it. It can be hard to get members excited about changing a legalistic document. Your job is to tell people why the bylaws matter. You have to focus on the issues.

What’s the issue that matters most to members in your local? In some locals, members may be getting bad representation from appointed stewards. Or members may be mad about givebacks in a new contract.

Explain your case. Use the three months before the vote to build support for the new bylaws. Put together a flyer that explains the issue, and get it out to members in all of the major sections of your local.

Don’t get too technical in your flyer—explain the change in simple terms and keep the focus on the issue. Contact TDU for help in making a leaflet.

Build support. Most bylaws require at least seven signatures to be submitted. But don’t stop at seven. Asking people to sign your bylaws petition is a good test to see if you have enough support to get them passed. Check your bylaws to find out how many signatures you’ll need.

Contact TDU for help making a bylaws petition. Click here to send a message to a TDU organizer and get help.

Turn out your supporters for the vote. Even if you have many supporters, you can still lose if they don’t show up at the meeting.

The week before the meeting, call and remind the people who signed your petition about the meeting and ask them to be there. In some locals, members organized carpools to the meeting to boost turnout.

Do you want to change your bylaws? Click here to send a message to a TDU organizer about what you’d like to change, or call (313) 842-2600.

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