Bellingham Tenant Union Bylaws
These Bylaws are a living document that guides our union's structure and function. All members of the BTU must abide by these Bylaws.
Sec. 1. Name. The name of the union shall be Bellingham Tenants Union (hereafter "BTU").
Sec. 1. Purpose. The Bellingham Tenants Union fights to achieve dignity and security for all tenants by ensuring access to safe, healthy and affordable homes. We do this by building the political and economic power of tenants through civic engagement, solidarity, and member driven organizing.
Levels of Involvement
Sec. 1. Levels of Involvement. The BTU seeks to be an open organization that accommodates member and supporter involvement at a variety of levels. There are five ways to contribute to the BTU: as a Member, Steward, Organizer, Elected Leader, and as an Supporter. Members can hold multiple roles at once.
General members are the foundation of the BTU, and determine the policy of the BTU as a whole. General members must satisfy the requirements detailed in Article IV.
Stewards are key to building our union’s strength: they serve as point-people for all members and mobilize them to take action. Stewards grow a connected union where all members are supported.
Organizers are members who take on a greater role in conducting the day to day work of the BTU. Organizers must satisfy the requirements detailed in Article VI.
Elected Leadership are members who are elected by the general membership to fulfill a role on the Organizing Committee and to represent the BTU, as detailed in Articles VIII and IX.
Supporters are people (tenants and non-tenants) who believe in the mission of the BTU and are in solidarity. Supporters can contribute financially to the BTU and/or engage in actions for housing justice.
Sec. 1. Membership Eligibility. Membership is open to Whatcom County tenants or prospective tenants, such as people experiencing homelessness. No homeowners or landlords can be members of the union, they can only become supporters.
Sec 2. Becoming a Member. Membership is first requested by submitting a membership application. Applications are subject to review and approval by the Membership Workgroup. General members include all those members who fulfill initiation requirements. As a new union, member dues are optional. If agreed upon by the union's members in the future, members will be required to pay dues or are approved for a Dues Waiver.(Henceforth, unless otherwise specified, “members” refers to voting members, i.e. general members, organizers, and Elected Leaders.)
Sec. 3. Duties. Duties of all members are:
Participate in the annual all-day member meeting in September/October.
If a member is unable to attend the annual all-day member meeting for a legitimate reason, such as work schedule conflict, family emergency, or illness, they may contact the Secretary, firstname.lastname@example.org, by written communication. To be in good standing, the member must pursue remedy by attending another general membership meeting or meeting with a BTU organizer.
Honor the BTU Code of Conduct as described in Article X.
Sec. 4. Associate Members. If a member is not in good standing, having not attended the annual meeting or made remedy with the Secretary by attending a substitute meeting, they become an associate member and have no voting rights.
Sec. 5. Membership Power. Members have the following membership powers:
Electing leadership, calling elections, recalling leadership, nominating candidates, and voting in elections in accordance with Article VIII;
Determining the long-term strategy and vision of the union, adjusting bylaws, changing membership policies, voting on the platform, and reversing decisions made by the Organizing Committee;
The right to attend membership meetings and to participate in the deliberations, and voting upon the business of such meetings;
The right to meet and assemble freely with other members and to express views, arguments or opinions; and to express at meetings views upon candidates in an election or upon any business properly before the meeting;
The right to information concerning the conduct of the union business.
Sec. 6. Accountability. Obstruction of the purposes of the BTU or violation of the BTU Code of Conduct may be grounds for disciplinary action, temporary suspension of membership, or expulsion. Accountability procedures and process of appeal for members is described in Article XI.
Sec. 1. General Membership Meetings. General Membership Meetings are the venue for members to make decisions and discuss the business of the BTU. Regular meetings will be held on a schedule agreed to by the membership, subject to change or cancellation for legitimate reasons, such as weather conditions. The membership shall be notified at least one week before scheduled meetings and when possible before special meetings.
Sec. 2. Seasonal Meetings. Every season, one of the general meetings is a Seasonal Meeting, i.e. Winter/ Spring/ Summer/Fall General Membership Meeting. The Seasonal Meetings will have reports on campaigns, finance, membership, and other key elements of the BTU. In addition, the bylaws and platform can only be amended at Seasonal Meetings. The Fall General Membership Meeting is also the Annual Membership Meeting.
Sec. 3. Annual Membership Meeting. An Annual Membership Meeting shall be held for the purpose of electing the Elected Leadership and conducting other business of the general membership. The meeting will be held in the months of October/November. The date and place of the Annual Meeting shall be established by the Organizing Committee and communicated to the membership at least 60 days prior to the meeting.
Sec. 4. Emergency Meetings. An Emergency Membership Meeting may be called by the Organizing Committee with at least twenty-four hours notice. Notice must be given in writing, but the non-receipt of such notice by any member shall not invalidate the proceedings of any Emergency Meeting.
Sec. 5. Resolutions. Resolutions may be placed on the agenda or brought to a meeting of the general membership by the Organizing Committee, or by a petition signed by five members or one-tenth of the membership, whichever is the lesser number.
Sec. 6. Quorum. To conduct official business, a quorum at any meeting of the general membership shall be half of the total number of those eligible to vote, or twenty votes by actual presence, whichever is the lesser number.
Sec 7. Voting. Resolutions and decisions shall be passed by a simple majority, with two exception of reversing the decisions of the Organizing Committee and adjusting bylaws, which require a two-thirds majority vote.
Organizers and the Organizing Committee
Sec. 1. Organizer Eligibility. The position of organizer shall be open to all general members in good standing. The requirements for organizers, including meeting attendance and contribution of labor, and the process for removal of organizers who do not fulfill these requirements, shall be determined by the Organizing Committee. Organizers shall attend as many Organizing Committee meetings as possible, and do their best to complete tasks that they volunteer for.
Sec. 2. Organizing Committee. The Organizing Committee, a voting body consisting of all organizers and Elected Leadership, is charged with carrying out the day to day work of the BTU in accordance with the decisions and policies of the general membership and these Bylaws. The Organizing Committee is authorized to make decisions about the day to day work of the BTU. Decisions are made by majority vote. Decisions of the Organizing Committee may be subject to reversal by the general membership and can also be vetoed by the Elected Leadership (see Sec. 9).
Sec. 3. Stewards. The foundation of the BTU’s relationship building structure is between Stewards and members. Stewards reach out, develop, and support new BTU members. More importantly, the Steward continues to build the relationship with the member into the future. Stewards are members of the Steward and Membership Work Group, who are in turn supported by the leadership of the union. More information about Stewards can be found in the BTU Steward Guide.
Sec. 4. Frequency. Organizing Committee Meetings shall be held at a frequency and at times to be determined by the organizers. With the exception of emergency meetings, the time and day of a given meeting shall be determined by the organizers at the previous organizing committee meeting.
Sec. 5. Emergency Meetings. An Emergency Organizing Committee Meeting may be called by the Elected Leadership with at least twenty-four hours notice. Notice must be given in writing, but the non-receipt of such notice by any member shall not invalidate the proceedings of any Emergency Meeting.
Sec. 6. Quorum. A quorum at any meeting of the Organizing Committee shall be one-quarter of the total number of those eligible to vote, or five votes by actual presence, whichever is the lesser number.
Sec. 7. Resolutions. Resolutions may be placed on the agenda or brought to a meeting of the Organizing Committee by any organizer or elected leader.
Sec. 8. Transparency. The Organizing Committee meeting is open to all BTU members, however, only organizers and elected leadership have voting rights at the meeting.
Sec. 9. Veto Power. The Elected Leadership can veto actions by the Organizing Committee if a majority of Elected Leadership votes to do so at an Organizing Committee meeting. The decision vetoed will then be presented to the general membership for voting at the next general membership meeting.
Sec. 1. Positions. The Elected Leaders of the BTU shall be two Co-Chairs, a Secretary, an Equity Steward, and a Treasurer. Together the Elected Leaders shall constitute the Elected Leadership (EL) and serve on the Organizing Committee.
Sec. 2. Elections. The Elected Leaders shall be elected by the membership at the Annual General Membership Meeting, as described in Article VIII. Vacant positions may be filled by election at any Membership Meeting, provided members are given thirty days written notice, including a listing of all candidates, and provided that absentee ballots are accepted as outlined below, in Article VIII. All Elected Leaders shall hold office for a period of one year, and they may stand for re-election.
Sec. 3. Eligibility. Eligibility to serve as an Elected Leader shall be open to all members in good standing who have been members of the BTU for at least 3 months, with the exception described in Article XI below. A member who wishes to stand for election as an Elected Leader may be placed on the ballot in two ways: either by a simple majority vote of the Organizing Committee, or by a nomination petition signed by ten voting members. Nominations must be completed no later than thirty-five days prior to the scheduled date of the election.
Sec. 4. Vacancy. In the event of the resignation, demise, or removal of any Elected Leader, the remaining Elected Leaders shall assume the duties of the vacant position, or shall appoint a replacement from among the membership, until at least one new candidate steps forward or is nominated and an election by the general membership can be held.
Sec. 5. Recalls. An Elected Leader may be recalled by the membership in the following manner: A petition stating the grounds for the recall and signed by at least ten percent of voting members shall be presented to the Secretary (or Co-Chair if the Secretary is the one so charged) at a meeting of the general membership. Grounds to support a recall include dereliction of duty, negligence, an accountability decision made following procedures outlined in Article XI, or actions not in accordance with the purposes of the BTU. A recall election will take place at the next Membership Meeting, and the duties of the named Elected Leader will be assumed by the other Elected Leaders, or by a member appointed by them, pending the outcome of the recall election.
Sec. 6. Failure of Duties. If an Elected Leader fails to fulfill the duties of their office as set forth in this Constitution, the other Elected Leaders shall notify that Elected Leader in writing of such non-performance. If the Elected Leader continues to fail to fulfill the duties of the office, the Organizing Committee, by majority vote, may initiate a recall election, to take place at the nearest Membership Meeting. The duties of the named Elected Leader will be assumed by the other Elected Leaders, or by a member appointed by them, pending the outcome of the recall election.
Sec. 7. Duties and Powers. Duties and Powers of Elected Leaders are as follows:
The Co-Chairs are the official spokespeople of the Elected Leadership and of the BTU. In addition, the Co-Chairs shall perform all functions that are legally required of a President and Vice-President. There shall be two Co-Chairs. One Co-Chair shall co-coordinate the Steward and Membership Working Group. One Co-Chair shall coordinate or co-coordinate the Communications Work Group.
The Secretary shall maintain the official copy of the Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and all currently approved policies and procedures; maintain the voting list and certify the results of elections; record minutes at General Membership Meetings; co-coordinate the Steward and Membership Working Group; ensure new members are receiving a Steward; and record and compile all actions approved by the General Membership and the Organizing Committee.
The Treasurer shall keep all books of account; conduct financial transactions; file all required tax returns and pay all tax liabilities in a timely manner; and prepare an annual financial report for distribution in writing to the membership.
The Equity Steward shall lead the BTU’s equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts to ensure they are aligned with its Mission, Vision, Values and Strategic Goals. The Equity Steward shall coordinate or co-coordinate the Equity Work Group.
Voting Rights, Elections, and Amendments
Sec. 1. Member Voting Rights. Each member in good standing may cast one vote at Membership Meetings. Each organizer may cast one vote at meetings of the Organizing Committee. Associate Members and Supporters shall have no voting rights. Records of members in good standing and a current list of organizers shall be kept by the Secretary, and updated prior to each General Membership Meeting. A member in good standing must be a member for at least 30 days before obtaining voting rights.
Sec. 2. Proxy Voting. Proxy voting shall be allowed. To be effective, a written and signed proxy shall be delivered to the Secretary prior to the vote during which the proxy representation is to be effective, designating the person who shall vote in place of the member. A written proxy is effective for only one meeting.
Sec. 3. Election Procedures. All Elected Leaders shall be elected by a plurality of votes at the Annual Membership Meeting. Notice in writing, including a listing all candidates for Elected Leadership positions, shall be sent to all current members at least thirty days prior to the Annual Meeting. Members will receive printed ballots at the Annual Meeting and vote after hearing brief statements from each candidate. Members who are unable to attend the Annual Membership meeting and contact the Secretary will receive Absentee Ballots that can be submitted digitally postmarked no later than the planned beginning of the Annual Meeting. Votes shall be tabulated as soon as possible, and at the latest new Elected Leaders will be certified at the next Membership Meeting.
Sec. 4. Voting Majorities. All actions at Membership Meetings shall be passed by simple majority, unless specified otherwise elsewhere in these Bylaws, and except for elections and amendments to the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. Such amendments must be passed by a majority of no less than two-thirds of votes cast by members eligible to vote at Membership Meetings. Written notice of proposed changes to the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws shall be provided by the Organizing Committee to all current members prior to the meeting during which such a vote is to take place.
Sec. 5. Campaign Limitations. Candidates for Elected Leadership can begin campaigning no more than 60 days prior to the Annual Meeting.
Committees and Work Groups
Sec. 1. Work Groups. The various working functions of the BTU shall be carried out by work groups accountable to the Organizing Committee. Work groups with specified mandates may be created and dissolved by the Organizing Committee. Standing Work Groups are as follows:
Communications & Art
Law, Policy & Research
Community Solidarity & Coalition Building
Outreach & Direct Tenant Organizing
Steward and Membership
Sec. 2. Coordinators. The function of coordinating the activities of the work-groups shall be assumed by Coordinators in keeping with the Elected Leadership responsibilities and/or elected by the organizers. Coordinator positions with specific mandates may be created and dissolved by the organizers. Coordinators have a responsibility to support members new to a work group to create a welcoming environment. There may be one or two Coordinators for each work group.
Sec. 3. Committees. The membership may establish necessary committees at any meeting. The Co-Chairs shall also be able establish committees. Committees may be short-lived or perpetual depending on need. Committees, with the exception of the Organizing Committee, are able to recommend proposals and actions, but must defer to the general membership and Organizing Committee for decision-making power.
Code of Conduct
Sec. 1. Environment. Bellingham Tenants Union is a supportive, welcoming environment for all, regardless of level of political involvement, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, personal appearance, race, ethnicity, age, religion, nationality, or other similar characteristic. The following code of conduct applies within our community:
Please be kind and courteous to each other. No personal attacks; direct strong emotions at ideas, not individuals. There’s no need to be mean or rude.
Political debate is greatly encouraged and part of how we develop. Be respectful, use healthy forms of discourse, and be open to new ideas.
Respect that people have differences of opinion and that every decision carries a trade-off and numerous costs. There is seldom a right answer, especially in political activism. As a political movement, we need cohesion of vision. While healthy debate is essential to progress, disruption and co-option of Bellingham Tenants Union is counterproductive and harmful. The problem is so much bigger than us.
Please keep unstructured critique to a minimum. If you have solid ideas you want to experiment with, be prepared to do the work yourself.
Sec. 2. No Harassment. We will exclude you from interaction if you insult, demean, or harass anyone. That is not welcome behavior. Our definition of harassment includes:
Violence, threats of violence or violent language directed against another person.
Sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or otherwise discriminatory jokes and language.
Sharing or displaying sexually explicit or violent material.
Sharing or threatening to post other people’s personally identifying information (“outing” or “doxing”).
Personal insults, particularly those related to gender, sexual orientation, race, age, religion, or disability.
Inappropriate physical contact. You should have someone’s consent before touching them.
Unwelcome sexual attention. This includes, sexualized comments or jokes; inappropriate touching, groping, and unwelcome sexual advances.
Deliberate intimidation, stalking or following (online or in person).
Sustained disruption of community events, including talks and presentations.
Advocating for, or encouraging, any of the above behavior.
Private harassment is also unacceptable. No matter who you are, if you feel you have been or are being harassed or made uncomfortable by a community member, please contact a member of the Organizing Committee immediately. Whether you’re a regular contributor or newcomer, we care about making this group a safe place for you and we’ve got your back.
Likewise any spamming, trolling, flaming, baiting, or other attention-stealing behavior is not welcome.
Sec. 1. Accountability. To render the Code of Conduct in Article X effective, Bellingham Tenants Union has the leadership hold people accountable, and those that violate this code may be warned, suspended or expelled. If someone on the Organizing Committee (OC) violates this code, they will excused from leadership duties and be subject to the same deliberation process and consequences as any other member. The BTU follows these policies for upholding our community’s standards of conduct. Members are encouraged to initiative accountability processes if needed by contacting the Elected Leadership at email@example.com. The Elected Leadership has the ability to create an Independent Accountability Work Group to handle accountability measures without the accused and accuser.
If a member(s) does not feel comfortable with the above, they can contact the BTU Member Advocate at firstname.lastname@example.org, which is independent from the Elected Leadership and advocates for members. The Member Advocate can form an Independent Accountability Workgroup for the case by going to either the Organizing Committee or the General Membership. The Member Advocate can choose half of the Independent Accountability Work Group’s members, the other half must be nominated and voted on by the group approached. Other accountability procedures are outlined below:
The Elected Leadership or Member Advocate will first respond to an accountability case depending on the severity of the problem. When reasonable, a warning or restorative justice process will be given. If the warning is unheeded, the person will be asked to step away from BTU to cool off. If they come back and continue to make trouble, they will be banned i.e., indefinitely excluded. The Elected Leadership or Independent Accountability Workgroup in severe cases has the power to ban a member immediately by a majority vote of the group after an investigation. This includes withholding membership from known abusers, harassers, and their apologists in order to ensure that the BTU is a safe, welcoming organization for our community of tenants. These bodies have the power to remove anyone who isn’t a tenant or a prospective tenant.
The Elected Leadership or Independent Accountability Workgroup may choose at its discretion to un-ban the person if it was a first offense and they offer the offended party a genuine apology.
If the Elected Leadership or Independent Accountability Workgroup bans someone and a member believes it was unjustified, they take it up with the Elected Leadership or Organizing Committee in private.
The Organizing Committee are held to a higher standard than other community members. If a BTU leader creates an inappropriate situation, they should expect less leeway than others.
The Elected Leadership, Organizing Committee or Independent Accountability Workgroup has the ability to create an Investigation Workgroup to handle accountability measures without the accused and accuser.
Sec. 1. Transparency. The Treasurer shall produce a quarterly financial report that clearly discloses all financial activity of the BTU. An annual report shall be prepared as well.
The Elected Leadership may authorize any officer or officers, or agent or agents, to enter into any contract or execute and deliver any instrument in the name of and on behalf of the BTU. Such authority may be general or confined to specific instances.
Sec. 2. Loan Resolutions. No loans shall be contracted on behalf of the BTU and no evidences of indebtedness shall be issued in its name unless authorized by a resolution of the Elected Leadership. Such authority may be general or confined to specific instances.
Sec. 3. Loans Restricted. No loans shall be made by and no credit shall be extended by the BTU to its Elected Leadership or members.
Sec. 4. Payment Procedure. All checks, drafts or other orders for the payment of money, notes or other evidences of indebtedness issued in the name of the BTU shall be signed by such Elected Leader, or agent or agents, of the BTU and in such manner as is from time to time determined by resolution of the Elected Leadership.
Sec. 5. Funds. All funds of the BTU not otherwise employed shall be deposited from time to time to the credit of the BTU in such banks, trust companies or other depositories as the Elected Leadership may select.
Sec. 6. Powers Restricted. The powers of the Elected Leadership described in Sections 1, 2, 4, and 5 above may be restricted in specific ways by the general membership in its Financial Policy.
Sec. 7. Annual Budget. The Elected Leadership is empowered to set an annual budget within the guidelines laid out by the general membership in the Budget section of the BTU's Financial Policy. This Budget Policy shall be reviewed yearly at the Annual Membership Meeting. Any amendments to the budget not expressly allowed by the Budget Policy, such as additional expenditures, must be approved by the membership at a membership meeting.
Sec. 8. Compensation. Compensation of Organizers and Elected Leadership shall be determined by the general membership in the Compensation section of the BTU's Financial Policy. This Compensation Policy shall be reviewed yearly at the Annual Membership Meeting.
Sec. 9. Records. The BTU shall keep at its principal or registered office copies of its current Articles of Incorporation, and Bylaws; correct and adequate records of accounts and finances, minutes of the proceedings of its members and Elected Leaders and any minutes maintained by committees; records of the name, address and class, if applicable, of each member and officer; and such other records as may be necessary or advisable. All records of the BTU shall be open at any reasonable time to inspection by any member of three months' standing or to a representative of more than five percent of the membership.
Sec. 10. Annual Review. Unless a different accounting year is at any time selected by the Elected Leadership, the accounting year of the BTU shall be the 12 months ending December 31. There shall be an annual review of the BTU's financial books and records as of the closing of each calendar year by an independent accountant or by an auditing committee elected by the general membership and composed of members who are not officers.
Adoption and Amendment
Sec. 1. Living Document. We intend our Bylaws to be a living document and flexible to meet the needs of our members. These Bylaws may be amended, altered, or repealed. The membership may amend the Bylaws at either the Annual Membership Meeting or a special meeting called for that purpose, by a majority vote of two thirds. A proposal to amend the Bylaws may be presented to the membership by majority vote of the Organizing Committee or by a petition signed by ten members.
Sec. 2. Acknowledgement. The BTU has adopted elements of Bylaws from the Seattle Transit Riders Union and East Bay for Everyone. The BTU acknowledges and is grateful to both of these organizations.
Sec. 3. Record. These Bylaws were originally ratified by the founding Organizing Committee on April 12th, 2018.