New Officers: Start Off on the Right Foot

Editor’s Note: The following checklist is from the Labor Notes book, Democracy Is Power. That book devotes 32 pages to sound advice for new union officers determined not to repeat their predecessors’ bad habits. Download a free PDF of the book here.

Immediately after winning election, local officers need to plan and assign a wide range of tasks. Many can be started during the lame-duck period; others can be planned before the election and implemented after you take office.

Not all these tasks will fit your situation, but this list can be a guide.


  • Report back to members right away. Distribute a post-election leaflet. Set up a web page, e-mail, or newsletter communication to activists.
  • Arrange leaves of absence. Request a leave from your employer for the length of the transition period and term of office, using contract language.
  • Hold a strategic planning meeting. Arrange for uninterrupted time with your broad leadership team to look at the big picture.
  • Audit the books. Have an independent, union-friendly certified public accountant check out the books and prepare a report suitable for publication to members. Do it right away so you can make a presentation at your first membership meeting. Use handouts and big charts to clearly establish the record and baseline of your administration. Send out an abbreviated report to show how you plan to change things. Ask the accountant to locate all funds and accounts.
  • Secure office space in the union hall. Your presence at the union hall is important during the transition. Learn what you can, and keep your eyes open.
  • Plan the first issue of a union newspaper. If the local does not already have one, start one. Have the articles written so you can get it out during the first two weeks of your new administration. Be sure to include articles by or interviews with rank and file members. By what is said and how it looks, your newsletter must signal the priorities of your administration.


  • Determine the status of all current negotiations, strikes, organizing drives. Develop a plan to maintain continuity—or to make big changes.
  • Determine and plan your immediate priority campaigns. Is the first priority a contract campaign, an organizing drive, or a program to reactivate the union in some area? Whatever it is, a campaign that involves members is critical to bringing the union together.
  • Immediately after winning election, local officers need to plan and assign a wide range of tasks.
  • Fill in a map of the local. (This is the map you probably used during your campaign.) Complete information on the number of members, the stewards, and the names of your key supporters at each work site.
  • Make plans to strengthen the steward system. Begin using the Stewards Survey and look toward a stewards newsletter and stewards council.
  • Know where to get help. Draw up your list of experts and consultants. Become familiar with the support services available from the international. Schedule a visit to other reform locals.
  • Arrange for an experienced reform officer to meet with your leadership and answer nuts and bolts questions.
  • Take inventory. Have a written inventory of all supplies, equipment, etc. Review the report with your trustees. Your international probably has required procedures for inventory.


  • Make arrangements to change locks, passwords, and signatures on accounts. Send written notification to the outgoing officers and staff to turn in all records and equipment belonging to the local.
  • Write a preliminary budget. Review the past administration’s spending over the last three years. How they spent members’ money was their “mission statement.” The same will be true for you. Remember this as you set your policies; make your plans first and then make out your budget.
  • Guard the hall. You or some of your trusted supporters may need to discourage theft and vandalism before you take office. As a last resort, post a guard in the parking lot. Notify the police of what you are doing.
  • Prepare new business cards and letterhead. Have it at your union printer ready to go on day one.
  • Contact the staff. Determine who does what jobs and what problems they have. Find out their ideas on improvements. Familiarize yourself with all contracts and personnel policies. Prepare to make changes as necessary.
  • Line up additional/temporary help. You may need help in the office, with contract negotiations, or handling grievances. Bring in help to deal with any backlog of work.


  • Review all standing committees—their function and who is on them. If they are appointed, replace leaders as necessary.
  • Review bylaws, constitution, and meeting rules. Go over key ones with your leadership. You may even want to practice chairing in anticipation of your first membership meeting.
  • Look over past records of meetings. You will need to know about past decisions and policies for running the local. Ask the outgoing officers for cooperation. Make a list of all policies or actions that need to be continued or modified when you come into office. Make this part of your first executive board meeting.
  • Review all contracts. Study all contracts administered by the local. Note all expiration dates. Make a chart. Familiarize yourself with the grievance procedure in each.
  • Know the employers. Start a working file on management personnel with whom you are likely to be dealing. Note both personal and professional information.
  • Contact all benefit plans and trusts. Let them know you will be taking office. Ask for training if you have any trustee responsibilities.
  • Contact the heads of state or regional bodies of your international. Write a letter to introduce yourself and ask for the relevant bylaws and a schedule of meetings. Introduce yourself to the Central Labor Council and to leaders of other unions with whom you expect to start working.
  • Review all contracts for services. Make changes where necessary in maintenance agreements, supply agreements, cleaning contracts.
  • Contact the retirees club. Familiarize yourself with the club’s officers and activities. The retirees are often a great source of experience and help for organizing and for political and contract support.


It’s possible to get mired in the procedures and miss the point—building rank-and-file confidence and power has to a union leader’s priority.

In Democracy is Power, we hope to show union members how to figure out which are the most useful procedures, by keeping our eyes always on that prize.