How to Get an Honest Local Union Election

Teamsters will be thinking about more than one election this fall. Apart from the U.S. Presidential election, many Teamster locals will be holding elections to select their local officers. Running for office is one way to make positive change in our union.

The number one priority of members who want to win office should be outreach to members: through plant gate visits, phone-banking, flyers, and mailings.

TDU has 27 years of experience with local elections.

In one important way incumbents and challengers are in a very different position: incumbents run the election. They set the rules and dates, control the mailing list, and have access to all the information at the union hall.

Rank-and-file challengers need to take steps to level the playing field and safeguard their election. tdu [at] (Find out how.)

Equal Treatment

The rules regarding Teamster elections are set by your local bylaws, the IBT Constitution, and a federal law called the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).

Under the LMRDA, all candidates must be treated equally. For example, if the incumbents use the union’s membership list to do phone-banking, then challengers must be given the list also. If an employer lets one slate campaign at its facility, other slates must be allowed also.

No slate can use union resources to advance its candidacy. For example, candidates can’t use the union newsletter to promote themselves unless all candidates are given equal access.

Local union staff are not allowed to use union resources to campaign. (However, staff can engage in limited campaigning on work time if it is "incidental" to regular union business.)

When the union or an employer gives the other side an advantage, demand the same treatment. For example, if the incumbents walked the dock campaigning, ask management if you can campaign there too. If no, protest promptly.

Election Protests

If the election rules are violated, you have to act fast. You must file a protest with the local’s Secretary-Treasurer within 48 hours of knowledge of the violation.

But isn’t it a waste of time to file a protest with the local administration if they are the ones who violated the rules? No. The law requires that you exhaust all your internal union remedies. It is important that you follow all required steps or you will not have legal recourse later.


The Teamster Constitution requires that members pay their dues on time for 24 months prior to nominations to be eligible to run for office. If you are off work on lay-off or injury, pay your dues on time directly to the union hall. If you miss a month’s dues or pay it late within the two years before nominations, you will be ineligible.

Each member who might run on your slate should write the local’s Secretary-Treasurer and request verification that they are eligible.


A nominations meeting must be held at least thirty days before the election. Each of your candidates must be nominated and seconded by members in good standing. This means that they must have paid their dues for the month prior to the meeting.

Membership List

The union has to let you inspect the complete membership list at least once within thirty days of the election. They don’t have to let you copy it. Check the union’s list against any lists that you have generated on your own (for example, through petitions). This can help you identify inaccuracies in the eligibility list.

If you suspect that the incumbents have copied the membership list for the use of their campaign, file a protest. If they use the list (for phone-banking, for example), they are required to let you use it also.

Worksite List

The union does not have to give you a list of worksites in your local, but there are other ways to get this information. The union is obligated to let you inspect all the contracts it has, at the union hall, including contracts with companies other than your own. Make a list of the companies and scan each contract to see if it lists addresses for different facilities. Contact TDU for more information on this matter.


Members who are running for office have the right to do mailings to the union membership at their own cost. You can also do targeted mailings to sub-groups, such as a mailing to stewards, to outlying zip codes, or to workers at one employer. The union cannot censor your literature or require that you show it to them in advance.

The local must provide mailing labels, and can either have the office staff or a mailing house do the mailing. Beware of the union trying to charge you excessive rates. They can only charge you for "reasonable” costs. Contact TDU for ways to reduce postage costs.

Don’t wait until the last minute to plan mailings. Early on, request from the union in writing details about the procedure for mailings. You can even do mailings prior to nominations.

Observing the Vote

Notify the local union that you intend to have observers present at all stages of ballot preparation, handling, mailing (or walk-in voting), and counting, and that you want advance notice before any of these occur.

Review the ballot and election materials before they are printed and mailed to make sure they are correct. Get a written record of how many ballots are printed and mailed. Make sure all ballots, including damaged and returned ballots, are accounted for.

Mail-Ballot Elections

It is very important to get confirmed in writing the date the ballots will be mailed out. You need to time your whole campaign around this date, and get your campaign mailing out so that it arrives at members’ houses just before or with the ballot.

You have the right to be present whenever ballots are picked up from the mail, including undeliverables. Request in writing that you be given advance notice, and try to always have an observer present.

Once the ballots are mailed, be on guard against ballot collection. That’s when a candidate or supporter asks coworkers to bring ballots to work and collects them to mail in. Ballot collection is illegal, even if a member marked her ballot before it was collected.

After the Vote

If you win, the hard work starts soon. If you lost and believe there were violations, you must file a post-election protest within seventy-two hours of the end of the vote, with the Secretary Treasurer of the Joint Council your local belongs to. The Joint Council will then conduct a hearing. If it rules against you, you can appeal to the IBT Executive Board.

If the IBT rules against you, or if they don’t issue a ruling within 90 days of the election, you can request an investigation by the Department of Labor. The DOL will not accept a protest if more than 120 days have passed since the election. Watch your deadlines.

The DOL will only investigate charges if you previously filed an election protest with the union over the violation.

TDU Can Help

Get Prepared at the TDU Convention

"TDU has helped us fight for fair elections in Local 743. This year our New Leadership Slate is going to beat the old guard and win our local election.

"We'll be at the TDU Convention in Cleveland–attending the Running for Local Union Office workshop and making plans to run a strong, democratic local. See you in Cleveland."

Richard Berg,
Local 743
University of Chicago Hospital

As this article shows, you will need to request many things in writing from the union leading up to the vote. Sample letters are provided in TDU’s book Running for Local Union Office.

TDU is your source of information on all aspects of Teamster elections, including election protests.

We encourage members to get involved in their union, including by running for office, so that we can build strong, democratic Teamster locals. Contact TDU early in your campaign for the help you need.

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