This handbook was developed to give newly elected Presidents and Vice-Presidents an outline of their duties. The handbook describes how an effective President or Vice-President contributes to the development of a strong local union. The handbook suggests where they can look for advice and a list of relevant Education Department Courses.

The union executive (President, Vice-President, Recording Secretary and Secretary- Treasurer) is responsible for the leadership and administration of the local. The “job” of all union leaders is to advance the interests of the members. Consequently, the best run locals are not those with the lowest dues rate, the most money in the bank, or the best filing system. They are those that successfully advance the interests of their membership and solve their problems.

Unions represent their members by negotiating collective agreements and by lobbying governments to improve laws that affect the membership. Unions also represent their members by ensuring that employers do not violate their collective agreements or laws (health and safety, human rights, etc.) that affect the members.

Unions must force employers to do things that they would not otherwise do. Our employers want to have a free hand to provide public services as cheaply as possible. Union members must work together to force employers to pay more than the bare minimum, to provide safe working conditions, to provide us with job security, etc. Even at a time of cutbacks, wage freezes and contracting-out, unionized workers do better than those with no protection.

The difference between members of an effective union and unorganized workers, or members of a passive local, is the difference between bargaining and begging. The difference between bargaining and begging is the power to effect change. Unionized workers who act together and support one another have more power than individual workers who can’t even complain about working conditions, harassment by supervisors, racism, or being passed over for promotions for fear of being labelled a troublemaker. Unorganized workers and members of weak locals can only hope that their employer will find other ways of saving money besides cutting their wages or laying them off. In short, members of strong locals have a lot more say about what happens at work than workers with weak or nonexistent unions.

Unions are not insurance policies where you pay your dues and expect someone to solve your problems for you. Unions are self-help organizations where the members work together to solve common problems. It is the job of the executive to coordinate these activities, and to ensure that the members have adequate information, advice and funds to deal effectively with workplace problems and concerns.