click to read the full article: Do As We Say? - By Daniel Fisher, Forbes.com, May 2, 2006
Unfortunately for their own members, unions rarely practice what they preach. While some large labor groups require officers to be elected by a majority of their members--the Teamsters adopted the practice as part of a 1991 federal consent decree to flush out corrupt leaders from the union--others allow delegates to elect officers at conventions every few years.
'There's a real irony here,' says Harold Benson, president of the Association for Union Democracy, a Brooklyn, N.Y., group that represents union dissidents in court challenges of voting procedures. 'They want democracy, but 'not on my block.' '
One of the most vocal proponents of shareholder democracy is the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, for example, which submits 80 to 100 proxy proposals per year, according to ISS.
The union's director of corporate affairs, Ed Durkin, said in a March interview with the San Jose Mercury News that corporate directors need to be more accountable to shareholders. 'If they know they have to get elected, that it's not a foregone conclusion, then boards become better-functioning entities,' Durkin said.
Yet the 520,000-member union is hardly a paragon of democracy itself, according to Alan Hyde, a labor law expert at the Rutgers University School of Law.
Carpenters President Douglas McCarron has overseen a sweeping reorganization that shifted power from locals to large 'regional councils,' which are overseen by powerful secretary-treasurers who hire and fire union employees even at the local level, Hyde says. That gives McCarron extraordinary control over delegates, Hyde says, because they tend to be full-time union employees who work at the pleasure of the officials they elect.
McCarron, whose pay rose 4% to $382,652 last year, is himself elected by delegates at a convention every five years. He also appoints the union's financial oversight committee.
'The Carpenters are definitely a less democratic, participatory union than they were ten years ago, and they have fought hard to make it that way,' Hyde says.