Office and Professional Employees International Union

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OPEIU
OPEIU logo.png
Full name Office and Professional Employees International Union
Founded 1945
Members >125,000
Affiliation AFL-CIO, CLC
Key people Michael Goodwin, President
Office location New York, New York
Country United States, Canada
Website opeiu.org

The Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) is a trade union in the United States representing 110,416 white-collar workers in the public and private sector.

OPEIU has members in all 50 U.S. states, the district of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The union formerly had 55 locals in all Canadian provinces, but on June 20, 2004 the Canadian locals voted to leave the OPEIU.

History[edit]

Clerical unions began forming in the early 1900s. By 1920, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had issued charters to more than 50 clerical unions. In 1942, the locals banded together to form the International Council of Office Employee Unions. In 1945, this union received a charter from the AFL as the Office Employees International Union. At the time of its founding, the union had about 22,000 members. In 1946 and again in 1948, the union conducted major strikes in New York City that led to the organization thousands of workers on Wall Street. At roughly the same time, the union began organizing locals in Vancouver, British Columbia and Montreal, Quebec. By 1960, the union had doubled in size to nearly 50,000 members.

In 1965, the union adopted its current name. In the 1990s, OPEIU began major organizing drives in the insurance industry, organizing several thousand workers at CUNA Mutual and Prudential. A similar organizing drive at Allstate ended after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the 10,000 workers were independent contractors. OPEIU also began organizing in the health care industry, organizing office workers at a number of health insurers. But it also began organizing registered nurses and other health care workers in limited numbers around the United States. In 1998, the much-raided collective bargaining arm of the Pennsylvania Nurses Association affiliated with OPEIU, adding 2,500 nurses to the union's rolls. By 2005, OPEIU represented about 5,000 RNs, making it the sixth largest nurses' union in the AFL-CIO.

Associational experiments[edit]

In 1996, OPEIU and the American Podiatric Medical Association agreed to form a "guild" within OPEIU, the First National Guild for Health Care Providers of the Lower Extremities.

Because of their status as independent contractors, the podiatrists were barred by federal law from forming a labor union. Under the terms of the affiliation agreement, members of the association who wished to join OPEIU did so as associate members, paying a lower dues rate to fund programs to advance podiatrists' lobbying and public education agendas.

Medical doctors, pharmacists, clinical social workers, chiropractors, hypnotists and appraisers have all joined OPEIU on an associate member basis since then.

There is disagreement among observers as to the effectiveness of the associate member model.

Critics argue that while there were initial successes, many 'guild' members desire more professional services that the international union is able to provide given the limited income derived from these members.

But advocates of the guild model argue that the union is laying the groundwork for long-term growth. The union is not only gaining members which enable it to advocate for changes in federal labor law to permit the unionization of independent contractors. The union is also setting the stage for the affiliation of potentially hundreds of thousands of these workers. In the meantime, supporters say, OPEIU gains some additional dues income and is able to enhance its bargaining status with insurers and other vendors by pointing to a larger membership base.

1998 election[edit]

In 1998, the international office of the OPEIU had its first contested election since 1953, when Howard Coughlin defeated incumbent president Pail Hutchings.

A slate of incumbents, led by Patrick Tully—an international vice president and secretary-treasurer from Local 32 in Newark, New Jersey—challenged incumbent president Michael Goodwin and his top officers from control of the union.

The primary issue in the election was the organization of new members, with Tully claiming that the union was not doing enough to grow.

On June 16, 1998, delegates re-elected Goodwin to a second three-year term as president, 78 percent to 22 percent.

A nearly identical voting margin re-elected incumbent secretary-treasurer Gilles Beauregard to his fifth term over Ron Tuckwood, another international vice president and president of Local 378 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

2008 (local union) election[edit]

In 2008, one of the international's local union offices, OPEIU, Local 30, had its first contested election (which become the most publicized election challenges in OPEIU's history due to the challenging candidate's web site, OPEIUVoice, their contacting the international union's president, secretary treasurer and each executive board member, individually, by postal mail and their contacting the United States Department of Labor). Candidates David Kessinger, Donald Murphey, and Dustin Teske vied for the positions of Executive Director, President and Executive Board (respectively) and challenged the outcome of the election based on numerous factors, the primary factor being that all of the incumbents were permitted to campaign on company property but none of the challenging candidates were afforded the same opportunity. In fact, each of the three challenging candidates on the "New Strengths, New Direction" slate were informed by the corporate compliance officer at their place of work that they were EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN from campaigning AT ANY TIME on company property, for the union positions for which they were running. In accordance with the international union's constitution and bylaws and national labor laws, the challenging slate appealed to the local union's executive board (and received no response), then to the international's executive board (and received no response), then to the international President and finally to the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL completed an investigation and confirmed that the challenging candidates were told by the corporate compliance officer at their place of employment that they were not permitted to campaign AT ANY TIME, on company property and that the incumbents were permitted to campaign on company property (and did). However, the DOL refused to overturn the results of the election or order a new election as requested by the challengers. The entire process has been documented and is available here.

Canadian autonomy[edit]

Canadian members made up nearly a quarter of the union as early as the 1970s but in 2003 the OPEIU chose not to appoint a Canadian to the position of Secretary-Treasurer, the second-highest union rank.[1] In March 2004, OPEIU President Michael Goodwin concluded that the American locals of the union had subsidized the Canadian locals by approximately $10 million. Goodwin proposed raising the per capita dues of Canadian OPEIU members by $2.00 per member per month, which, accounting for the then low Canadian dollar, would mean Canadians were paying more in dues than their American counterparts.[2]

A measure of Canadian autonomy had been approved in 1974 and implemented in 1977. The provisions of Article XIV of the international OPEIU constitution established a Canadian national director, vice presidents and regional officers as well as various separate funds and staff.

But now the members of the 55 Canadian locals of OPEIU wished to go further, severing all relationships between the international and the Canadian locals except for the right to vote for the international officers. Goodwin responded in April 2004 with a similar proposal advocating autonomy for the American locals.

That same month, Canadian locals of OPEIU Balloting undertook a process for creating the new autonomous union under Article XIV of the OPEIU constitution. Goodwin responded that Balloting must be preceded by a Canadian Convention vote, and threatened to amend the constitution to remove all Canadian autonomy if that did not occur. The international also sued to block the Balloting in a Canadian court. But on June 3, 2004, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Canadian locals.

On June 20, 2004, the Canadian locals voted 74 percent to 26 percent to form their own, autonomous union under the umbrella of the international. OPEIU Canadian delegates to the international convention, meeting in Bal Harbor, Florida, Withdrew from the proceedings and formed their own national union-the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) and, in Quebec, the Syndicat Canadien des employees et employes de bureau et professionels (SEPB).

The international immediately sued in U.S. district court to Prevent formation of the autonomous union. The U.S. court dismissed the action on December 10, 2004, pending resolution in the Canadian courts.

The two sides met informally in December 2005, but no progress was made on the issues.

Further court proceedings in Canada occurred during mid-2006. Finally, in August 2007, the OPEIU conceded that its previously affiliated locals within Canada had indeed succeeded in severing their affiliation with the OPEIU and are now members of the autonomous union, COPE.

The membership of the OPEIU may have peaked in 2003 when the international counted 150,882 members (just prior to the Canadian locals leaving the OPEIU). Several years later, in 2005, the international office of the OPEIU could only claim 99,035 members. However, just four years later, OPEIU membership was up to 110,416, growing an average of about 2,845 members per year.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ross, Andy (2011). Finding Our Power: Stories of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378 (softcover). Vancouver, BC: Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-9784058-1-6. 
  2. ^ Ross, Andy (2011). Finding Our Power: Stories of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378 (softcover). Vancouver, BC: Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-9784058-1-6. 
  • Finley, Joseph E. White Collar Union: The Story of the OPEIU and Its People. New York City: Octagon Books, 1975. ISBN 0-374-92742-1

External links[edit]

Archives[edit]