April 2, 2007: In 2004, Richard Berg said some activists had doubts about running for office in Chicago Local 743. With over 12,000 members, running for Local 743 office is a big task to take on.
Then, six weeks before nominations, Local 743 members at Silver Capital went out on a wildcat strike. Members of the 743 New Leadership Slate, the reform team, went down to the picket line.
Almost all of the strikers were immigrants from Mexico. “The business agent for the shop, who was also the vice president of the local, came out and told the members that if they didn’t go back to work, he would call immigration on them,” Berg explained.
“The New Leadership Slate had to act,” said Berg. “We put Marcela Garcia, the leader of the strike, on our slate to run against the vice president. Wherever she went, she told the story of how our local leadership tried to deport its own members.”
Richard Berg narrowly won the election.
But the local officials pulled a trick. They stopped the count, with Berg ahead, and ordered a re-run, which they blatantly stole. The U.S. Department of Labor has taken them to court for that, and will likely be supervising an election in Local 743.
You Have to Lead
“The 2004 election taught me that you’ve got to start providing leadership for the members right now, before you ever get elected,” Berg explained. “You’ve got to address the issues that members care about and lead on them.”
There are lots of ways you can lead on the issues. If there are UPS members in your local, you can help build the Make UPS Deliver campaign by passing out bulletins and collecting email sign-up forms. If pensions are a hot topic, you can organize a pension workshop so members can talk about what to do. And there are local issues to work on.
“You’ve also got to establish your experience as a leader,” added Sandy Pope, president of Local 805. “Go to all the union meetings. Take advantage of labor education programs to educate yourself (and build your resume). Volunteer for a committee and try to get other members involved.”
“Just because people dislike the incumbent doesn’t mean they will vote for you,” Berg advised.
“The members have to see your team as real leaders,” Berg added. “You can do that by passing out information, holding meetings, and getting members involved in these fights.”
Getting an Early Start
The other key to a successful campaign is to get an early start, Pope explained: “You’ve got to start campaigning very early, and you’ve got to keep campaigning all the way to the end.”
To build the support needed to win, successful slates make a plan to reach out to all the members of the local several months before the nominations.
“In Local 743, we go out with flyers and a petition to every worksite where we can get support,” said Richard Berg. “We use the petition to meet people and get phone numbers for our campaign list, and also to gauge our support. When it’s time to get out the vote, we know where we have support and how to tap it.”
“When I first ran for office, I made an extra point to reach out to opinion leaders in every shop—especially the shop stewards,” Pope said. “It’s always hard to tell where you really have support, and many members depend on their stewards when they decide whom to vote for.”
Once the ballots are out, knowing where you have support and where your opponents are strong is critical. After the ballots are out, you should work to build turnout where you have strong support.
Get Advice from TDU
“TDU wrote the book on running for local office,” Berg explained. “If you’re thinking of running this year or in 2008, contact TDU right away.”
If you are going to win, there are a lot of organizational issues and legal problems you have to plan for. TDU can help set up a meeting in your local. TDU leaders can help your team put together an election game plan so that you are prepared for every step of the process.
A Reform Movement
Winning office is not going to solve all of your local’s problems.
Successful reform slates have found that running for local office is only one part of an overall strategy for building a strong union.
“Building a reform movement in your local has to start before you take office,” Pope explained. “You have to build a network of people working together to build a stronger local. Help other members get involved in the local. Get Convoy out. Don’t just be a critic—offer suggestions to make the local better.”