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From the November 2005 issue of the $100 Plus Club News #97
Update: Still Subverting Union Democracy in 2005
Efforts continue to evade the provisions
of the federal Labor Management Reporting and
Disclosure Act (LMRDA), the 1959 law that guarantees union democracy
for union members. Here are some of the latest methods that officials
have found to subvert membership rights in unions:
Illegible notice: For forty years union officials
ignored Section 105, which requires
them to inform their members of the requirements of the LMRDA. After a
series of successful federal court suits, the first initiated by three
machinists against the IAM, several unions were finally forced to comply.
The Machinists Union agreed to publish a summary of the Act in its magazine
and on its web site. So far, so good. But then the Plumbers Union, forced
to comply by court order, printed the same text in its magazine: but with
blue type on blue paper. The Machinists got the idea and and now the IAM
home page link to its description of LMRDA rights is in illegible blue
letters on a blue background (the lower left section of their home page).
(Once found, the description of union member rights itself is, thankfully,
black on white).
Eviscerated locals: The LMRDA requires locals
to poll their membership by secret ballot in electing officers or imposing
dues or assessments. But inventive officers have devised a way around
that provision, especially in the building trades. They have found a loophole.
It happens that the law permits "intermediate" bodies to elect
officers and to impose dues and assessments without a secret ballot membership
vote. And so, locals can be squeezed dry of power, deprived of control
over collective bargaining and grievance procedure until they resemble
social clubs more than labor organizations. Then the locals are combined
into so-called intermediate councils whose officers take over the now
vanished powers of the locals. No secret ballot membership election of
the omnipotent council officers; no secret ballot membership vote on dues;
council delegates take over and shunt the membership aside.
Stifling free speech in the guise of "interference":
Before the LMRDA was enacted, a device for suppressing dissent was a union
constitutional provision against slander and libel. Unionists who criticized
their officers were simply subjected to charges of slander, brought to
trial before committees controlled by the very officers they had criticized,
found guilty, and fined, suspended, or expelled.
That changed in 1962 when a federal appeals court
in Salzhandler vs. Caputo ruled
that union trial bodies were not impartial enough or sensitive enough
to deal properly with the charges. Aggrieved union officials could file
suit in public court -- like any other citizen. But in a portent of things
to come, the Operating Engineers, at its last convention, amended its
constitution in an obvious attempt to make an end run around Salzhandler.
The amended provision subjects to expulsion any member "who willfully
engages in slander or libel where such slander or libel is contrary to
the responsibility of every member toward the Organization as an institution
or specifically interferes with the Organization's performance of its
legal or contractual obligations." The new text, in italics, is actually
borrowed from the LMRDA itself.
The LMRDA section on free speech ends with the proviso
"nothing herein shall be construed to impair the right of a labor
organization to adopt and enforce reasonable rules as to the responsibility
of every member toward the organization as an institution and to his refraining
from conduct that would interfere with its performance of its legal or
contractual obligations." And so, by amending the provision on slander
and libel with this wording, union officials hope that members will fear
criticizing them, but if they do, they can be successfully convicted in
the union, not for the slander itself, but for "interference"
in carrying out legal or contractual obligations.
Such an amended provision would probably not stand
up in court, but to challenge it would require litigation, which by itself
would chill free speech. That is because in free speech cases, it is the
victimized member who must retain and pay a lawyer. Union officials pay
legal fees out of the union treasury.
Other articles on
LMRDA Section 105:
employees can help enforce members' right to know
of CSRA rights for Federal employees: text of regulation
Still Subverting Union Democracy in 2005
Federal unions must let their members know
105 Update: Obeying union democracy law, belatedly
points in battle for democracy
Some unions hate to say, "you
have legal rights."
Court to IAM: Inform
members of their rights
Is your union in compliance with Section 105
of the LMRDA?
Text of LMRDA Section 105
District Council 37 union delegates reject proposal
for direct election of Council officers
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