AFL-CIO Finds UNITE Guilty of Raiding UFCW

An AFL-CIO “impartial umpire” May 11 ordered the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees to stop giving financial support to members of a small independent union who have protested the merger of their union with the United Food & Commercial Workers.  Umpire Howard Lesnick found that UNITE violated the no-raiding provision of the AFL-CIO’s constitution (Article XX) by helping to pay the legal fees of members of the Textile Processors, Service Trades, Health Care Professional & Technical Employees, who challenged the merger of their union with UFCW in federal court.

The members of the independent, Chicago-based union assert that they were not informed of, or allowed to vote on the merger at a specially called union convention last May. Their lawsuit also claimed that some of the union’s leaders stood to receive excessive pension benefits and cash payments as a result of the merger.

In a Mar. 28 ruling, the U.S. Dist. Ct. in Chicago issued a preliminary injunction barring the merger, finding that union members likely would prevail at trial on claims that their rights to participate in the merger vote, as protected by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (a.k.a. the Landrum-Griffin Act), had been violated.

UFCW spokeswoman Jill Cashen May 12 said the umpire’s ruling makes it unlikely that the Textile Processors members would be able to pursue their lawsuit, since UNITE has been bankrolling the litigation. Even if they do proceed with the case, Cashen said, it is unlikely that the district court’s preliminary ruling on the merger would stand, given that the umpire found UNITE in violation of Article XX.

Leaders of the independent union pursued the merger last year after UNITE succeeded in wresting away several thousand of its members through elections among units of commercial laundry workers. By merging with an AFL-CIO affiliate like UFCW, the independent could prevent further UNITE raids on its units.

Article XX prohibits raiding by one affiliate on the membership of another. Ignoring the provision puts an offending union in jeopardy of being raided itself.  [BNA 5/15/00]