Robert’s Good to Know: Elections, Appointments, Confirmations, Special Elections and Recalls (Robert Ausch, UFCT 1460 Treasurer and Grievance)
Over the next few weeks, members will have an opportunity to vote on whether or not to confirm Emily Beall as UFCT 1460 Vice President. This provides us with an opportunity to explore the various types of democratic procedures laid out in our bylaws available to the membership by which we can have a say in union leadership.
Elections: Regular and open elections are the foundation of all democratic organizations. Article IV of the UFCT 1460 bylaws lay out the basic procedures for running elections. Elections are limited to the four officer positions–President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer (4.1), are managed by an Election Committee, take place every three years during the period from September 1 to December 7 (unless there is a runoff), and provide a process by which challenges can be brought to the Elections Committee for adjudication. Following the election, officers begin a three year term (4.1a-i). Maintaining a timely three-year schedule allows for stable governance and the opportunity for potential candidates to prepare to run for office. Ideally, it also separates elections, which can be divisive, from periods of bargaining, which require member unity to achieve the most successful results. Once an officer begins to serve, the only way members can shorten their term is to initiate a recall election.
Appointments: The bylaws recognize that there will be certain times when officer positions will become vacant. With the exception of the President, officers are not compensated and still have to manage full time careers, especially in schools like Pratt where over 85% of faculty are part time. When a position becomes vacant with less than one half of a term remaining (18 months or less), the Executive Committee can appoint a member to that position (4.1.j). No confirmation vote is necessary according to the bylaws.
Confirmation: If an officer position becomes vacant with more than one half of a term remaining, the appointment is subject to a confirmation by the membership (4.1.J). The confirmation vote is managed by the Elections Committee and members are given a choice whether or not to vote to confirm an appointment. Such a confirmation process recognizes the importance of providing members an opportunity to weigh in on appointments, but also avoids the kinds of disruptions that might occur if every vacancy required a new election. Confirmation votes offer members an opportunity to push back in cases where a majority of the membership believes that the Executive Committee has appointed an officer who does not belong in that role.
Special Elections: In the case where a majority of members vote not to confirm an appointment, a special election is triggered (4.1.J). This is the only mention of a “special” election in the bylaws. It is held using the same procedures as those laid out for officer elections other than the September-December timeline. As our bylaws currently stand, there is no process by which members can “call” a special election–special elections result from a failed vote to confirm an appointment.
Recall Elections: To protect members in cases of the abuse of power, the bylaws offer the members a process by which they can call for a recall election (4.2). The bylaws identify three conditions for which a recall election can be initiated: “constitutional violations, fiduciary breaches, or acts clearly detrimental to the union.” To initiate a recall election, a petition must be signed by at least 40% of the membership that specifies the specific grounds for recall. Such a high bar ensures that recalls are not politically motivated but are responses to serious threats to the union itself. Recall elections are managed by the election committee but the procedure to be used must be approved by a majority at a regular or special membership meeting. Membership meetings, according to the bylaws, follow Robert’s Rules of Order (Article VII). Thus, to approve the procedures (in fact, for any vote at all to come to the floor at a membership meeting), a quorum constituting at least 50% of the membership must be present (RONR 3:3-3:5). Once approved, the full membership must be informed of the recall election procedure.
These five procedures seek to balance the need for democratic processes, leadership accountability and stability. They were approved by the membership in 2014. As we reform the bylaws over the next few months we can ask whether they achieve this balance in the most effective way possible. Previous to May 2023, the same individual held the Presidency for twenty years. That is not good for the health of democratic organizations. Officers ran unopposed. The great majority of members did not believe leadership positions were available to them. Was there something about the bylaws themselves that created such a closed system? This is worth asking. One thing is clear, changing the bylaws is serious business and new practices can have enduring and unpredictable effects over long periods of time.