The Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) is a United States labor union representing more than 150,000 white-collar workers in the public and private sector in the United States.
OPEIU has locals in all 50 American states, Puerto and the District of Columbia. The union also has 55 locals in all Canadian provinces.
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 1965, the union changed its name to the Office and Professional Employees International Union.
In the 1990s, OPEIU began major organizing drives in the insurance industry, organizing several thousand workers at CUNA Mutual and Prudential Insurance. 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. The union organized 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.
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.
Doctors, pharmacists, clinical social workers, chiropracters, 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.
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.
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.
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 undertook a balloting 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. Canadian delegates to the OPEIU international convention, meeting in Bal Harbour, 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 professionels et de bureau (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 on the issues was made.
Further court proceedings in Canada are scheduled for mid-2006.
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