As new members of The Society of United Professionals, Legal Aid Ontario lawyers have the opportunity to be involved in your union. Opportunities range from occasional activities aimed at influencing or supporting union decisions to holding an elected union leadership position that is your full-time job. There are roles for everyone to play that suit your level of interest, desired career path and available time.
This is a summary of the way The Society works and how to get involved. For all of the details, please see the Governance section on our web site that has The Society’s constitution, by-laws and other key documents.
The most important part of a union is its members. At The Society, there is a difference between being represented by The Society and being a member of The Society. While The Society is obligated to represent anyone working in a Society bargaining unit position through negotiation and administration of the collective agreement, membership is voluntary. Members get to vote in elections, participate in the governance of the union, hold elected office and access services like discounts the union has negotiated with businesses across Ontario. To become a member, fill out the form here.
The other important unit to understand within The Society’s governance structure is the Local. Locals are one or more bargaining units that generally are associated with a single employer. At The Society, locals are named for the employer members work for rather than using numbers as many other unions do. For instance, there is the Ontario Power Generation Local. The Society has 14 locals, not including Legal Aid Ontario lawyers and articling students. Locals coordinate collective agreement negotiations for their bargaining unit(s) and administer the collective agreement. Locals are also the primary interface between the union and its members.
While there are many formal leadership roles that members can get involved with to influence and advance The Society, members can also get involved by participating in campaigns – such as this one to stop Bill C-27, which threatens pensions across Canada – that come up from time to time, coming out to events that you may hear about via the newsletter, e-mail, the web site or social media, or attending member meetings.
To help you better understand The Society, here is a rundown of some key roles and decision-making bodies:
The Society has four Principal Officers, often called POs. The POs are the President, Executive Vice President Policy, Executive Vice President Member Services and Executive Vice President Finance. Each officer is elected directly by all members. Principal Officers work for the union full-time.
Local Vice Presidents
Local Vice Presidents lead a local. This includes chairing their Local Committee, serving as the point of contact for their employer, overseeing the delivery of local member services (including assisting members with grievances), coordinating and participating in collective agreement negotiation, and many other key roles. All LVPs sit on the Executive Board. Each LVP is elected by all members of their local. Depending on their arrangement with their employer via the collective agreement, some LVPs work for the union full-time while others have some hours dedicated each week to perform union business while continuing to work at their regular job.
Each local with more than 50 members will have at least one Unit Director. A Unit Director oversees the delivery of local services to a group of up to 400 members. Groups of members that form a unit are defined by geographic and/or lines of work. Each UD is elected by the members within their unit. As with LVPs, some UDs work for the union full-time while others have some hours each week to perform union business while maintaining their regular jobs.
Delegates work within a unit to assist the Local in delivering services to members. The process for delegate selection is based on each Local’s by-laws.
The Society has a staff team with a broad range of skills to support the union’s work. This ranges from labour relations to administration to organizing to communication and research. The Society’s own staff is augmented by three staff organizers hired by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, The Society’s international union. Non-management staff is represented by the Society Staff Union.
Key Decision-making Bodies
The Society is a democratic organization. Little formal power rests in any individual’s hands. Instead, decisions are taken by groups of elected members.
Society Council is comprised of Principal Officers, Local Vice Presidents and representatives from each local in proportion to size of their local’s membership. Council meets annually and is the highest decision-making body short of a referendum. Council sets union policy, receives audited statements to oversee the finances of the union, and sets the strategic plan.
Meeting approximately once per month, Executive Board makes decisions between Council meetings to set budgets and policy, oversee finances and human resources, and implement the strategic plan. Essentially, it is the body that decides on issues that affect more than one local. Its membership is comprised of all Principal Officers, Local Vice Presidents, select Unit Directors (as chosen by their Local), the Staff Director (senior manager of Society staff, non-voting) and the President of The Society’s Pensioners’ Chapter (non-voting).
Meeting approximately twice per month, Executive Committee makes operational decisions and approves limited and/or urgent spending. It is a gatekeeper to Executive Board to ensure the Board remains focused on its core business. Executive Committee is comprised of all Principal Officers as well as three other members of Executive Board.
Local Committees are comprised of the LVP and Unit Directors of a Local, and in some cases all or some delegates. An LC is supported by a Labour Relations Staff Officer. Each LC has its own by-laws and operating procedures. The LC oversees and directs the work of each local, including setting collective agreement bargaining priorities.
The Society has three equity committees that are open to all members:
- Sisters in Society is the longstanding women’s committee that was formed to address issues that affect the status of women in the union, the workplace and society as a whole.
- The Aboriginal Relations Committee works to create mutually beneficial relationships with Aboriginal Peoples, some of whom are Society members. Members of ARC must identify as Aboriginal.
- The LGBTQ2 Committee is in its infancy but has a mandate to raise awareness and sensitivity to LGBTQ2 issues to create safe and inclusive environments within the union, workplaces and society at large.
If you have any questions or want to get involved, contact Society Organizer Michelle LeBlanc at [email protected].