Canada Employment and Immigration Union -

Local officers: roles and responsibilities

Who does what

The local executive typically has a president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary. There are variations on this structure (see below) but a closer look at these four positions provides the best start.

All four positions carry out work that has two aspects. The first deals with matters internal to the union such as the financial administration of the local and membership meetings. The second deals with labour relations issues such as union-management meetings and grievances. These two aspects are not strictly separated – management’s response to a grievance may give members a lot to talk about at union meetings – but it is useful to separate them here. Each executive position will be considered in terms of these two characteristics.

The local president

As the chief executive officer of the local, the president oversees all internal union matters. Some of these responsibilities are exercised directly: the president presides at all executive and membership meetings and reports on the local’s behalf to other levels within the union structure. Other responsibilities are exercised indirectly. The president is answerable for the finances of the local, but exercises this responsibility through the local treasurer. The power to delegate allows the president to assign tasks to other members of the executive or to committees of the local union. Whether directly or through others, the president assumes the overall responsibility for internal union matters.

The president assumes the same overall responsibility for labour relations matters. In a direct fashion, he or she will act as the chief spokesperson for the local in dealings with management. Indirectly, the president exercises this responsibility through the stewards who represent members on grievances and other matters.

Given the broad responsibilities of the president, a simple list of duties cannot be provided as a guide. Instead, training and practice can develop the techniques and strategies to carry out the responsibilities of this position. Often, members interested in participating on the executive begin by taking positions as secretary, treasurer or vice-president in preparation for seeking the senior job in the local. There are, however, members who are talented at leading and coordinating, and for them, the president’s position is a natural fit.

The local vice-president

This position is much more than that of a stand-in for an absent president. While the vice-president must assume the duties of the president when he or she is absent, the post is critical to helping the president achieve the local’s goals. Unlike the secretary and treasurer who have specific administrative responsibilities, the vice-president will take on such issues only when directed to do so by the president.

Similarly, the vice-president may take on specific tasks related to labour relations. For example, the vice-president may be skilled at addressing particular workplace issues in labour-management meetings, and in view of that, may be assigned by the president to act as spokesperson for the local on those matters.

For the president and the rest of the executive, the vice-president is a resource that can be directed either at tasks internal to the union or to those concerned with labour relations.

The local secretary

In the digital age, a more appropriate name for this position might be ‘information and communication officer’ but given the weight of tradition, it will continue to be known as ‘local secretary’. The position of secretary is central to the internal operation of the local because it records information generated by the local (minutes of membership and executive meetings) and organizes and distributes information from other levels in the union structure.

The secretary can also play an active role in labour relations issues. Just as a vice-president may be delegated to speak for the local on a given issue, so too might a secretary act as local spokesperson.

The local treasurer

The treasurer is responsible for the financial affairs of the local and is accountable to the local executive and members. To operate effectively, a local must control and distribute its resources skilfully, and the treasurer is vital to reaching this goal. Most of a local’s revenue comes via the dues rebate from the national level of the union and the treasurer must ensure that the appropriate financial records are submitted to maintain the flow of funds to the local treasury. The treasurer also controls the disbursement of funds to make certain that the financial integrity of the local is upheld. A further service provided by a skilful treasurer is the development of budget options for the local. The value of this service can be considerable.

As with the other members of the local executive, the treasurer can play an active role in labour relations matters. The skills of a good treasurer might be well applied to union-management discussions relating to local office resources.

Variations on the standard executive structure

Not all locals will have the standard four person executive discussed above. A common variation found in smaller locals is the use of the ‘secretary-treasurer’ position. As the title suggests, it simply combines the secretary and treasurer functions. Larger locals with more than one location normally recognize a vice-president position for each location and often title it ‘site vice-president for office x’. This ensures that each office has a voice on the local executive. Both small and large locals may opt to create the position of chief steward and recognize it as a full member of the local executive.


Local committees serve two important functions. They allow the local to share responsibilities for important issues like health and safety that might otherwise command too much of the executive’s time. They also allow more members to become engaged with the union. Many members start as committee members before moving to a steward or executive position.

There are two sorts of committees. Standing committees are on-going bodies devoted to areas such as health and safety. Special or one-time committees deal with important issues that emerge from time to time. The local has considerable freedom to establish the committees it wishes, but since every committee requires resources, each must be factored into the local’s budget.

Further reference

The CEIU By-laws contain an appendix (“A”) titled “Local Rules”. Formal duties and responsibilities of executive members are contained there and should be reviewed periodically.

Search This Website

The Personal