How to Change Your Local Union Bylaws

Changing our local union bylaws is one way that Teamsters are opening up locals to more participation and member power.

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

Over the years, members have won many new rights this way, including the right to elect shop stewards.

At the 2021 IBT convention, Teamster reformers proposed and won the right to rank-and-file members on every contract bargaining committee.

The IBT Constitution is silent on how rank-and-file bargaining committee representatives are selected.

If you want to organize and win the right to elect your shop stewards or rank-and-file bargaining representatives, TDU can help.

Reviewing Your Bylaws

Under federal law, all members are entitled to a copy of their local union bylaws.

Read over your local’s current policies to identify the amendments you want to make.

When you decide what you want to change, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. To avoid problems, use model language that has already been approved in other local unions. Contact TDU for help.

Proposing Your Amendments to Your Bylaws

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 at the first general membership meeting of the year.

Proposed changes must be presented at a union meeting, along with signatures from members who support the proposal.

Make sure to check your bylaws to verify how members must sign on to the proposed amendments.

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

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

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 reforms?

  • 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 contract givebacks or closed door bargaining.
  • Explain your case. Use the three months before the vote to build support for the new bylaws. Put together a leaflet that explains the issue, and get it out to members in all of the major sections of your local.
  • Keep it simple. Explain the change in simple terms and keep the focus on the issue. Contact TDU for help 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. The week before the meeting, call and remind people of the vote and ask them to be there. In some locals, members organize carpools to the meeting to boost turnout.

Want to change your bylaws? TDU can help. Contact TDU for organizing advice and model language. Email TDU at [email protected], or call (313) 842-2600.

Greg Brown, Teamsters Local 251

Elected Bargaining Committees Build Power

"If you want to win good contracts, members need to know what’s happening in contract negotiations and have a direct voice at the bargaining table.

In my local, we changed our bylaws to give members the right to elect the rank-and-file members on their negotiating committees–and to require the negotiating committee to inform, unite and mobilize the members.

At First Student, we elect a committee member from each area and group—a junior member, a senior member, a middle-seniority member—to make sure that all the voices and issues in our shop are represented at the table.

We give members regular updates during bargaining so that they understand what is happening and how they can be involved in winning a good contract.

Last contract, the company used their blast texting system to put out misleading information to the members and popularize a lowball offer.

We countered it by reaching every member with the facts. Members stayed united and we won a damn good contract, including more guaranteed hours and a real Teamster retirement plan.

That’s rare for school bus Teamsters. We won it because our local is built on member involvement and member power."

Greg Brown is a shop steward and an elected bargaining committee member for Local 251 First Student.


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