I want to take a moment to discuss organizing and how important it is to the survival of our union. Let me start by saying that while organizing is critical to our survival, it's also the hardest job we have. It's also our number one priority in DC7. The word organizing can mean a lot of different things to people, but for the union, it simply means growth. That is why we organize—to grow market share, grow membership numbers and grow the impact our union can make in the lives of our members and their families. Four years ago, the Organizing Department of DC7 was focused primarily on a top-down approach to organizing, which means reaching out to prospective contractors and discussing with them the opportunities and value that comes with being a signatory contractor with DC7. While this approach has merit, the success rate is close to 15-20% if we are lucky. We changed this approach and overhauled our organizing efforts by making organizing the priority of the council. Everything that we do as a staff is centered around how it will help with organizing under the direction of the Director of Organizing, Steve Schreiner.
Today, we still use a top-down approach but only when it makes sense and if there is a reasonable chance of success. We currently use a more balanced strategy with an emphasis on bottom-up organizing, which is the more traditional and well-known type of organizing. It is simply talking to workers and explaining the benefits of being in a union and how it can help improve their lives. In one way or another, every person on staff has a dual role as an organizer. Elected Business Reps and organizers work hand-in-hand because we must work together. A typical day for an organizer using bottom-up tactics will be spent out on job sites talking to workers, on picket lines or job actions, house-calling non-union workers and information gathering. We have committed a lot of time and resources to this approach, and it will remain our priority because we do not have another option.
Recently, you have probably heard a lot about organizing and a bylaw change related to organizing, along with several rumors about the proposed change. As a review on how we got to this point, please consider what has been going on the past three years.
Three years ago, the DC7 organizing team headed up by Director of Organizing, Steve Schreiner, came to me asking for more help with organizing efforts. Director Schreiner wanted to lay out a plan to include more locals in our existing Industry Advancement Fund, which was created in 2010. The fund is designed to recapture hours, wages and benefits lost to non-union contractors by applying funds to DC7 signatory contractors when bidding against non-union contractors. It is used to bridge the gap between the bids which are, on average, 30% less than union bids. Local 1204 glaziers have used their fund for several years with proven success in bringing in more work for Local 1204 glaziers. This expansion can only be done by changing the District Council bylaws.
The organizing plan that was laid out to me three years ago is the same plan that we are talking about today. Every staff member has agreed that this is what is needed to help grow work opportunities and market share for our members. This expansion of the existing Industry Advancement Fund has been debated by staff over the last three years. It has been approved by the District Council 7 financial committee two times and has been approved by two different DC7 bylaws committees. These committees are made up of staff, including the Director of Organizing, and elected delegates from each DC7-affiliated local. These changes were also voted on by the delegates of the District Council at the delegate meeting in April. I would like to take this opportunity to clear up some rumors about what the fund is, what it isn't and what it will and will not be used for.
The language in question is the same language that is in the current bylaws but includes locals 781, 802, 941 and 1011. The language that is proposed was approved by our International and we do not have the ability to change it.
We will not be doing anything different with the expansion of the fund than what has been done with the fund the last 4 years. If the bylaws are approved, each local will have their own pot of money to draw from to be applied towards projects in each local's area. There will be accountability every month, with reports for each local at their local meeting on how the funds have been spent.
Decisions on which projects to apply funds toward will be made a by a committee of staff following the current policy, with the biggest input by the Director of Organizing and the Business Rep from each local. This is the way that the fund is currently administered. By federal law, the chief officer of a labor organization, in this case the BMST of the District Council, has to approve all financial expenditures; so, I have a role in the decision-making but am not the only person deciding how funds are applied.
I have heard rumors that members believe the District Council is broke and that is why the union is asking for the money. Not true. The District Council is not broke. I report out on the financials every month at the DC7 delegate meeting. We currently have 8 months reserve (it is recommended that we have 12 months of reserves). Four years ago, we had less than 3 months reserve, which is why the dues were increased in the last bylaws update. That is not what we are proposing. Yes, this is an increase in dues, but it is targeted for a specific purpose which is to increase hours and benefits for members and better compete against non-union contractors. The money does not go into the District Council general fund.
I have heard rumors that the funds are just a union slush fund to be used for staff lunches, family vacations, etc. That is totally untrue and in fact, illegal.
Money will not be used to support wages and benefits of current organizing staff or to hire new organizers. Staff is currently paid from the DC7 general fund and it will remain that way.
For more information on the Industry Advancement Fund please watch the videos from our Director of Organizing, Steve Schreiner, and other staff members. These videos explain why the fund expansion is needed and how it can help members. Please remember that the vote is scheduled for May 22 from 7:00 – 12:00. Locations are listed on the DC7 bylaws page. We hope that you will consider what the organizing team is asking for and vote on May 22.
Thank you for your time and please contact me if you have any questions.
Jeff Mehrhoff, BMST