back to Federal Labor Law Topical Outline: Internal union regulation
The Rights of Union Members — Title I
"Bill of Rights"1
- McClellan Amendment
The McClellan amendment was introduced after the Kennedy-Ervin bill failed to win ample support for passage. It contained a "Bill of Rights" for union members, which among other things guaranteed the right of free speech, equal participation in the election process and additional rights to be covered below. This "Bill of Rights" became the new Title I and it was passed by a one vote margin.
- Kuchel Amendment
Two days after the McClellan amendment was passed, an alternative "Bill of Rights" was proposed, which limited somewhat the rights agreed to in the McClellan version. Although the changes were not great, the inclusion of "reasonable rules and regulations" and the narrowing of rights to specific issues are the greatest differences between the two. The Kuchel alternative was approved by a much greater margin, seemingly indicating broader support for this version.
Provisions of the "Bill of Rights"
- Equal Rights
This section granted to union members equal rights, such that every member has the right "to nominate candidates, to vote in elections … to attend meetings … subject to reasonable rules and regulations in such organization's constitution and bylaws."1 The LMRDA intended that rights granted to any member would be granted to all union members. It was not meant to give "any new substantive rights"2 to union members.
A member has the right to nominate a candidate for union office, but it does not extend to guarantee that the member will be a candidate.3
Voting cases are divided between election of officers and other issues4 — usually to do with constitutional issues, e.g., collective bargaining agreements.
- Officer elections (primarily covered in Title IV) — an officer voted out of their position does not violate §101(a)(1). "The courts reason that the statue protects the official only as a member rather than as an officer or employee."5
- §403 bars6 Title I actions after an election is completed.
There exists a vacuum in the LMRDA, in that members have the right to attend meetings, but the union is not obligated to hold meetings.7
- Freedom of Speech and Assembly
This section was intended to give union members "the right to meet and assemble freely … express any views, arguments, or opinions; and to express at meetings of the labor organization his views, upon candidates in an election … any business properly before the meeting, subject to … established and reasonable rules…"8 Included in this section is a proviso allowing labor organizations rules and/or regulations that permit it to perform "its legal or contractual obligations."9
- Courts have placed "a very heavy burden" on unions if they attempt to show that members' free speech has affected it as an institution.10
- In a controversial case, Salzhandler v. Caputo,11 the court formulated two conditions over a members' free speech rights.
- The member is "obliged to accept the 'organization as an institution.'"
- The member must "refrain from acts that would impair the union's performance of 'its legal or contractual obligations.'"
- Free speech protection has been upheld for oral statements,12 written flyers/leaflets,13 literature distribution at the union hall,14 picketing of the union hall15 and statements to the press.16
- Right to assemble. The statue protects the union member rights to hold ad hoc meetings to discuss union affairs.17
- Dues, Initiation fees, and Assessments
Changes in dues, initiation fees or assessments can only be made on the local level through a secret ballot of members in good standing or on the national level by a vote at a convention/referendum, both after notice has been given. Cases generally involve either improper procedure involving the increase or the increase itself.
- Improper procedures
In American Federation of Musicians v. Wittstein,18 the Supreme Court ruled that delegates to a convention could cast votes on behalf of those they represented and not be limited to just their personal vote.
The courts have ruled that any increase in a members assessment, is an "increase," but an increase in dues because of a promotion is not.19
- Reasonable notice
Cases concerning this matter have revolved around timeliness20 and clarity of notice21 and have been decided on a case-by-case basis.
- Protection of the Right to Sue
"No labor organization shall limit the right of any member thereof to institute an action in any court, or in a proceeding before any administrative agency…"22 The right to sue is tempered by the provisos in this section which state that the member must first exhaust internal union remedies for four months and cannot be aided in their dispute by an "interested employer or employer association."23
- The Supreme Court in NLRB v. Marine Shipbuilders24 implied that a balance is struck between the union's right to address an internal grievance and the court's option to heat the case. It largely depends on the circumstances involved during the four month period.25
- Safeguards against improper disciplinary action. This section added to the protections of §§8(a)(3) and 8(b)(2) of the Taft-Hartley Act. This section was to grant members the right to be an active member in the union's internal affairs (pro or con), without having to fear reprisal under the auspices of union discipline. This section covers the procedural aspects, while a later section (§609) deals with the actual disciplinary actions and what recourse the member can take. Specifically, when discipline for action outside of nonpayment of dues is considered the member must be "(A) served with written specific charges;26 (B) given a reasonable time to prepare his defense; (C) afforded a full and fair hearing."27
- The Supreme Court has limited the scope of actions brought under this section, to those where the union disciplinary procedures are deficient.28
- Actions not targeted at individuals, but which have adverse affects on those individuals,29 such as administrative or general policy decisions, have been found not to be a violation of this section.
- Union officers losing their jobs. The courts are divided on whether an union officer has "broad responsibilities both to the union and the membership as a whole"30 or whether their duties are solely "'to promote and execute the policies of the Union President and the Executive Council at all times.'"31
- In Grand Lodge of the IAM v. King,32 six officers lost their job because they backed the losing candidate in an election. The court found that their rights under this section had been violated and found in their favor.
- However, in Sewell v. Grand Lodge IAM,33 the court decided that the lose of one's union position, does not necessary equate to a violation of this section.
- Civil Action for Infringement of Rights; Jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has held that this section is to be construed "as a broad mandate to the courts to fashion 'appropriate' relief."34
- Retention of Existing Rights of Members. This section was included so that any rights already granted by state law would not be preempted by this Act.
- Rights to Copies of Collective Bargaining Agreements. Two rights were created by this section, one, for the member to have a copy of relevant contracts,35 and two, to be able to inspect relevant contracts.
- Information to Members of Provisions of Chapter. (According to one source, if anything was done by the unions to ensure compliance with this section, it was done in 1959 when the Act became law. It is for all practical purposes, a non-issue.36)