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The skinny on union conventions

Offering perspective and insight, we explain that these events are all work mixed with networking and the sharing of best practices.

Kris LaGrange's picture
Sep 21, 2016

This week, two major unions are holding their union conventions. For those who are not in a union, a convention might seem a little nerdy or it might seem like one big party - but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

A union convention serves as a scheduled time where elected representatives from all of the local unions across the country  come together to establish and vote on rules and elect people who will govern the union until the next convention.  At the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) convention, locals from across the United States and Canada came together to elect a President, Secretary -Treasurer and chairman of the International Executive Council.  Other issues taken up at the convention were around a dues increase and the creation of a Code of Excellence.  These important votes allow the locals form across the country to have a voice in how their union is run and who will represent them. It gives the greater union leadership directive while cultivating plans for growth and development that work in every corner of nation.

After the voting is concluded, the elected delegates take part in trainings and workshops and listen to speeches from different officials. The goal of these trainings and speeches are to educate locals leaders to make them better leaders, organizers and representatives of the union.  At the IBEW convention, speakers spoke about continuing to make a commitment to organizing and expanding the union. At the Laborers (LIUNA) convention, delegates heard from both motivational speakers like Deion Sanders and Joe Theismann, but also have heard speeches from labor leaders like Will Fischer from the AFL-CIO’s Union Veteran’s Council. Other events include Caucus meetings like the Women’s Caucus or the Young Workers Caucus.  These meetings allow groups that have traditionally had less of a voice to meet with union leaders and generate plans to better outreach and organize these groups.  Delegates from across the country showed up to the IBEW convention three days early so that they could be a part of these meetings. 

At both the LIUNA and IBEW conventions, the International unions have also held vendor expos and networking events.  These events allow union leadership to see some of the cutting edge technology and services that they can use to help their membership.  UCOMM peddled their services at the IBEW convention as a way for local unions to better communicate to their members and the public at large. There were also vendors offering financial planning services, tool manufacturers ad even union made work apparel.  For many locals, this offers an opportunity for them to see the changes that have occurred since the last convention and make the needed changes the local needs.  After the convention proceedings for the day are done, a delegates job is not yet over.  Every night there are networking events where local union leaders from across the country are able to talk to each other about their successes, failures and find new and creative ways to run their local.  These may be ideas on health and safety or negotiation tactics that Business Managers can bring back to their local.  At one event, IBEW 1820 youth leaders from South New Jersey sat down with IBEW 1249 youth leaders from Syracuse, New York to discuss ways to strengthen their growing Youth Caucus. 

IBEW Local 97 Business Manager Ted Skerpon takes a break from the caucus meeting to pose for a shot with the cut out of UCOMM’s Kris LaGrange.

While these conventions might seem like fun and games, they are a lot of hard work.  Proceedings start every day at 9 AM and often go late into the night.  When the delegates come back they will have democratically elected the union’s leadership, set the union on a governing path for the next few years and will bring back valuable skills that will help their local. Delagates to the convention are elected positions and the men and women who were elected to go to the convention were elected for a reason. It's vital that rank and file members understand this, and bring an elected convention delegate should not ever be taken lighty. It's not a party, it's work but it's mission is right and just.

Brian Young contributed to story.

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