Five years ago, Mike Carrube was elected president of the Subway Surface Supervisors Association after campaigning as a reformer. His attorney, Arthur Schwartz, for more than 20 years has tried to make himself the go-to guy for reformers seeking to bring change to unions including District Council 37 and Transport Workers Union Local 100.
So it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that they have engineered and are defending a change in the union’s constitution that bars from running for office any member who does not have at least five years in the union at top pay. Not exactly what you would expect from self-styled reformers.
Mr. Carrube’s justification for setting that criteria, according to a written statement he sent to this newspaper, was this: it was approved by members when he proposed it four years ago.
This neatly overlooks the fact that at that time, most SSSA members met that criterion. That is no longer the case as a result of turnover in the ranks that has led to a significant number of promotions into the union. But beyond that, how exactly does this kind of exclusionary move benefit anyone other than the incumbents?
Typically the union’s members were represented by another union prior to becoming Supervisors, and those seeking office are likely to have been active in those organizations. One example is Ainsley Stewart, a veteran activist in TWU Local 100 who because he has just five years in a Supervisor job doesn’t have the needed time at top pay to be eligible to run.
In contrast, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, all of whose members are promoted from the Uniformed Firefighters Association, allows them to seek union office once they have 60 days in good standing. This encourages younger members of the bargaining unit to run, and shows faith in the entire membership to weigh the virtues of experience in the rank vs. good ideas and energy in making their decisions. One of the best presidents the UFOA ever had, the late Vincent Bollon, was first elected to its board with less than two years in the union, and then chosen as its president two years later. One reason for his swift rise was that he had demonstrated his capability while serving on the board of the UFA prior to his promotion to Lieutenant.
It all comes down to whether a union wants to welcome new blood to leadership positions or fears it will create competition. One sign of Mr. Carrube’s attitude on that subject is the fact that the nominations meeting is being held on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, which is observed by fasting.
That was “unintentional,” a union spokesman said. Yet once it was discovered, the meeting wasn’t rescheduled.
Labor historian Josh Freeman, who authored a well-regarded history of the TWU, told this newspaper’s Bob Hennelly regarding the “five years at top pay” standard for seeking SSSA office, “I think that something that limits union members’ access to holding union office does not advance union democracy.”
Union members should ask themselves why, then, Mr. Carrube pushed through this change.
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