How to Change Your Bylaws

January 10, 2008: Last year, members in Chicago Local 726 voted two times to reject a proposed tentative agreement that didn’t protect their jobs. Their bargaining committee was unelected, and members thought they didn’t have a voice in bargaining.

This year members will get a chance to change that. Members will vote on a proposal to require elected representatives on the union’s bargaining committee thanks to a bylaws reform campaign led by concerned Teamsters.

Changing your local’s bylaws can win new rights and protections for your members, and help you build a stronger union.

Over the years, members have won many new rights this way, including elected stewards, salary caps for local officers, and rank-and-file members on contract negotiating committees.

Why Do Bylaws Matter?

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.

The bylaws are the constitution of your local union. They define the rights and responsibilities of members, and they set the powers for your officers.

Your bylaws can set how your stewards are chosen, who bargains your contract, and how local elections are run.

Only in January

January is the time to act if you want to win changes in your bylaws. In many locals, members can only introduce new bylaws proposals this month.

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.

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. 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.

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. Keep a list of names and phone numbers of people who support your proposal. In some campaigns, members have circulated a petition in support of the new bylaws. Then the week before the meeting, call and remind people of the meeting and ask them to be there. In some locals, members organized carpools to the meeting to boost turnout.

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 has been approved by the IBT and lawyers who can review your proposals before you run into a challenge.

Want to change your bylaws? TDU can help. Contact TDU for organizing advice and model language. Click here to email TDU, or call (313) 842-2600.

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