At ver.di’s Fifth Federal Congress, the union’s commitment to a fairer future was on full display as the more than 1,000 delegates in Leipzig voted to modernize the union’s structure and elect a new federal board, including Chairman Frank Werneke.

In her speech at the congress, UNI General Secretary Christy Hoffman addressed Chairmain Werneke directly saying, “I have always admired your intellect and honesty, your willingness to innovate with new ideas. And when you stood before this room and described ver.di’s healthy strike fund, it’s clear that you understand union power. I look forward to working with you in the future.”  

Hoffman noted the long-held solidarity between UNI and ver.di, including ongoing efforts to make Amazon and health-care giant Fresenius responsible employers in German and globally.

In his address to the Congress, Werneke presented a clear, future-looking plan for ver.di. Effective co-determination, he said, means that technology is controlled by humans, not the reverse, and it also means strong protections for employee data.  

Werneke promised that ver.di will tackle insecure and precarious work head on, and the union will not agree to any tradeoff between “flexibility” and security in the labor market.  Going forward, ver.di will demand that the “in place” workers, like drivers for Uber and Lyft,  are classified as employees. He noted that precarious work and “mini-jobs” tended to be done by women, driving the gender pay gap.

Said Hoffman, “I am particularly impressed with ver.di’s program for a just transition for its members and its clear agenda to combat climate change. Also, for the union’s determination to make technological change result in social progress. This should be a model for us all:  No lay-offs or outsourcing, but instead an expanded sense of codetermination—shorter work weeks, upskilling, and data protection.

“There is a real ‘WOW’ factor because this is not just talk. ver.di is putting these principles into practice. We can all learn from them.” 

The Congress put a strong emphasis on strong, expanded collective bargaining and the need to change the rules in order to bolster bargaining institutions—for example through a proposal to require that public procurement be limited to those companies with bargaining agreements.

“We know the way to move Europe forward is through stronger collective bargaining that builds workers’ power,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa. “Together with ver.di, we will make sure workers have a say.”

ver.di’s exciting future is based on the solid foundation laid by its outgoing leadership, especially former Chairman Frank Bsirske.

Hoffman said, “We say farewell and thank you to our dear Frank Bsirske, who has been a pillar of UNI’s European work for many years and is UNI Europa’s President until October 2020.   Frank, you are a true giant among world labor leaders, a person of great courage and conviction.”

UNI also extends congratulations to the two vice- chairwomen Andrea Koscic and Christine Behle as well as Stefanie Nutzenberger, Sylvia Bühler, and Christoph Schmitz for their election to the Verdi executive board.