Running for Local Union Office

Running for local union office is a chance to do more than change the faces at the union hall. We can build stronger Teamster locals, improve representation, and elect officers who will stand up against the pension cuts and other attacks on members by the Hoffa administration.

More than 150 locals will hold officer elections this fall. Many of those races will be decided right now by the steps that candidates take—or fail to take—to prepare early for this fall’s balloting.

“You can change your local leadership, but not with a last-minute effort,” said Tim Buban, who was recently elected principal officer of the 5,500-member Milwaukee Local 200. “You need to start early, doing even little things that build your campaign.”

These key early steps should be taken even if you don’t have a full slate or you’re not sure if you’re going to run.

Bring Concerned Members Together

Get your campaign off on the right foot by bringing concerned members together from the very beginning. You do not have to start by forming a slate or nailing down candidates.

Start by focusing on issues, not individuals:

Talk about the problems that are holding your local back and proposals for positive changes.

Define some next steps that a committee could take to prepare a run for office—even if you’re just exploring the possibility.

Agree on a Platform for Change

Defining a platform or a “program for positive change” is a good early task for your committee. Hold a meeting dedicated to this topic. Let people brainstorm a list of reforms without criticizing or debating each suggestion. Then discuss the list as a whole and prioritize your goals.

Every local has its own issues. But good platforms have a few things in common:

  • They stress the problems that concern most members.
  • They focus on positive solutions without over-promising.
  • They are short and to the point. Few members will read long-winded statements.

Study Your Local

  • Early research is key to a strong campaign. You’ll want to know:
  • Worksite locations and shift schedules
  • Contracts: Their strengths and weaknesses at different shops
  • Issues: What do members care about in different shops?
  • Finances: How are members’ dues being spent?

The best way to get this information is by talking to members one-on-one. But there are other steps you should know about.

Reviewing contracts: Under federal law, the LMRDA, every member has a right to review all of his or her local’s collective bargaining agreements. Send a written request to the local to make an appointment to review the contracts. In addition to finding out worksite locations, this will give you a chance to research key contracts for information on wage rates, weak language etc.

Financial reports: Every local is required to file financial reports with the Department of Labor each year. These LM-2 forms are available online at or from TDU.

Build a Membership Database

As a candidate, you have a legal right to do mailings to the membership, but you do not have a right to a copy of the membership list or members’ phone numbers.

Successful campaigns collect members’ phone numbers early and often—using raffle tickets, surveys, petitions, and sign-in sheets from campaign meetings.

You should put someone in charge of putting your contacts’ phone numbers into a database that you can use to get out the vote down the line.

Other Tips

Make a budget and fundraising plan. Your budget should include funds for mailings to the membership. Fundraisers with low overhead like raffles tend to generate the most funds and the most member involvement, too.

Make it easy for members to contact you by establishing a post office box, a phone number or voice mail where members can leave messages, and an e-mail address.

Schedule vacation time in advance so that you will have time off to campaign during the election.

TDU has more than 25 years of experience in local elections. If you’re thinking about running for local union office, contact us today. We can advise you on the ins and outs and even schedule a workshop on legal and organizing strategies for building a successful local union election campaign.

Start Early to Involve Members

We started planning our campaign early. We developed a plan. We got informed. And we reached out to the members of Local 324.

A late start won’t catch the incumbents off guard. But it will catch the members by surprise. They won’t know what you stand for or why they should vote for you—and they won’t have the opportunity to get actively involved in your campaign.

We won our election because we started early, looked members in the eye and talked about positive change.

If you’re serious about transforming your local union, contact TDU. There’s no better way to learn how to run a successful election campaign and how to build a stronger local after you’re elected.

Cliff Baker
Local 324 Secretary-Treasurer
Salem, Ore.

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