The members of AFSCME Local 3299 have voted out their establishment backed incumbents and replaced five out of the six executive officer seats with rank and file members.
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This is a huge victory for the rank and file members , and not an easy accomplishment. In fact, it's nearly impossible in a local this size.
Why is it so difficult? Well, for starters, there's no such thing as a truly unbiased union election if there are more than 100 eligible voters. The more members in the local, the harder it becomes to beat an incumbent, As incumbent officers have the backing of the national union. While most unions claim to have autonomy at the local level, that disappears the instant there is a viable challenger to the power structure. The international will dump whatever resources are needed to preserve their control over a local.
This is especially true if the election is somewhat close to the year of the national convention. In this case, AFSCME is approaching a convention where they will be selecting a new president to replace the retiring Gerald McEntee. A change in leadership in a megalocal that size could potentially affect a voting bloc controlled by the national headquarters.
Incumbents also get to develop the ballots and schedule the election schedule and voting methods. This allows the incumbents to schedule voting times and locations to maximize their turnout and minimize the turnout of their opponents, as well as ensuring they have the most favorable ballot position.
Most megalocals also require a large number of signatures to even get your name on the ballot. Unlike the incumbents, who have the assistance of staff members to collect the number of signatures required, the average member would have to travel on their own time, at their own expense, to several facilities just to get their name on the ballot.
So how can rank and file members mount a successful campaign to win officer elections?
1. Communication with members - if you actually intend to win, as the AFSCME members did, reaching out to members and making sure they vote is key.
2. Make a clear case for change - having a clear, simple platform not only makes the different choices clear, it also makes it easier to get your name out there if it's attached to a platform.
3. Form a watchdog team to observe the larger election locations and vote counts. Have them record the totals so they can be confirmed later. Never underestimate the rogue staffer who may compromise ballots.
The bottom line is: the deck may be severely stacked against the average member, but it is possible to pull of an upset if you have a good strategy.