FAQ: Executive Elections in Unions

Most unions have a very similar structure, with a few minor differences. The defining and common features that unions share are a board of directors, AGMs, and their Democratic roots. While the number of directors changes between unions, their roles and how AGMs are conducted all are very similar. Voting rights are also universal for union members in good standing. Elections are carried out on a one member-one vote basis. Voting rights extend to strike ballots as well as board of directors/ leadership elections. 

Get the answers to the most frequently asked questions on unions in the following. 

General Questions

1) What legal position does the union’s board of directors have?

The board of directors is the governing body of the union. Its officers and directors are elected by the membership through direct or delegate elections. The legal details are outlined in the bylaws, which are based on the provincial, state, and federal legislation.

2) How many directors sit on the board?

The size of the board depends on the size of the union. A small union may have a board with four to seven directors, whereas larger unions have up to 20 or more directors. More directors on the board are necessary to represent the membership fairly, due to operating in different regions. Directors are also expected to chair various committees. The more committees that the union has, the more directors they may need. 

3) What is the election process for directors on the board?

Every election process begins with the nomination period. In general, members may nominate candidates, or more frequently candidates gather signatures so that they may run for election. The election committee collects these nominations and checks potential candidates for eligibility. After the election is set up, the ballots are sent out to members with voting privileges. The election committee determines when the election period starts and ends. Finally, votes are counted and the results published on the union’s website, a secure membership area and/or member magazine. 

Executive Elections in Unions

4) Can only members be elected to the board of directors?

Generally, all members in good standing can be elected to the board. However, unions may lay out additional requirements in their bylaws. This could include being a member of the union for a certain amount of time or to have certain qualifications to represent the membership on a higher level

5) Nominating candidates & staying within the deadlines

The election committee oversees the nomination process. In most cases, this procedure will be the same for all unions. Nomination periods and deadlines will vary, but you should ensure that nominated members accept their candidacy within the time limit.

The larger the union and the more complex the election structure, the more election committees need to plan. Ensure that you keep to a strict time schedule and have enough of a time-buffer so that your election is as stress-free as possible.

6) How long board of directors terms?

The average term for directors on the board is two years. However, each union should define the term lengths in their bylaws. It is not unheard of for term lengths to be as high as five years.

7) What responsibilities do board members have?

The board of directors serve as the governing body of the union. Officers supervise and direct union affairs according to the bylaws. Indeed, the core board tasks should be clearly defined in the bylaws.

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Voting Rights

8) Can elections at AGMs be held electronically?

It is easy to hold or attend the AGM electronically but whether it is allowed depends largely on the Union. If your union’s bylaws permit, you can hold live voting at your AGM, with absentee voters casting their ballots online, and watching the debates unfold via live stream.

9) Can unions vote online? 

Many unions already vote online. But in order to conduct online voting, it has to be included in the bylaws of the union. For bylaws to be amended, the issue must be raised and debated according to the existing bylaws. 

10) How can the bylaws be amended?

Unions are regulated by federal and provincial legislation in both Canada and the US. How bylaws can be amended are detailed in the bylaws, which should have been created according to state (provincial in Canada) or federal legislation.