Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

UAW's Blatant Hypocrisy on Secret Ballot Elections

Yesterday was the final deadline for UAW members to submit their ballot on whether the union should abandon its current delegate system and move to choose its leaders by direct elections. It’s no secret the UAW isn’t a fan of changing the status quo — despite years of entrenched corruption in its ranks. But a recent campaign led by the union’s Administration Caucus takes hypocrisy to a whole new level.

The move to direct elections, or a “one member, one vote” system, gained traction at the height of the federal investigation into corruption at the union. Members felt choosing their leaders directly, instead of allowing them to be chosen by a delegate, would increase accountability — something sorely lacking at the UAW.

But the union’s Administration Caucus — an 80-year old association — has launched a new website,, that calls on members to “maintain the delegate voting system.”

The site argues that the current “delegate structure is not undemocratic.” In fact, the group hinges much of its argument for maintaining the current system on the importance of secret ballot elections laid out in the UAW’s constitution.

It highlights three democratic safeguards:

  • Members elect their local union leadership through secret ballot election.
  • Members ratify their agreements through secret ballot election.
  • Members elect delegates to represent them to national conventions through secret ballot election.

Apparently, secret ballot elections are hugely important to the union when it comes to its own internal elections. So why has the UAW fought to deny workers the same right to a secret ballot when it comes to union representation?

When Tennessee announced a plan to build a new Ford plant in the state, the Center for Union Facts called for secret ballot elections for any future Ford workers the UAW hoped to represent. Tennesseans sent 1,000 letters to their elected officials urging the same. But the UAW has confidently stated that the union “will have a presence at the Ford facility,” despite no promise of a secret ballot vote.

In fact, one union leader explained that “based on Ford’s contractual obligations with the UAW…the union would be in the facility and workers would be ‘strongly encouraged’ to join.” Union president Ray Curry said, “The UAW looks forward to continuing our long-time partnership with Ford.”

All this from a union that is under a six-year federal monitorship to weed out corruption in its ranks. The latest is that the independent monitor in charge of reforming the union has 15 open investigations into misconduct.

From where we’re standing, the status quo doesn’t seem to be doing union members much good. But if the union is so confident in its secret ballot system — why doesn’t it extend that practice to its own union elections?

Categories: Crime & CorruptionUAW