Connecticut Dissidents Win Appellate Victory

Two Conn. dissidents, Gary Wall and William Cooksey, who were refused readmission to Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am. Local 230, won a major victory Aug. 24 when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals allowed them to proceed with a Labor Management Reporting & Disclosure Act suit against the union. The LMRDA, known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, guarantees members the right to express any views regarding union policies and protects them from discipline for exercising their rights.

Chief Judge Ralph K. Winter reversed a lower court decision and held that the claims weren’t barred by a three-year statute of limitations because the two relied on the union’s “false and misleading justifications as to why they could not be readmitted at a particular time, while holding out the promise that readmission would follow referral to a job.” He also ruled that the period was tolled while the two pursued internal union remedies.

Wall and Cooksey were longtime members who vocally disagreed with bosses and filed unfair labor practice charges against the union for discrimination. The Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. decided in Oct. 1990 that the union removed Wall as shop steward in Nov. 1985 in retaliation for refusing to follow directions to “shake down” laborers for money. NLRB also held the union denied both men jobs through the hiring hall in retaliation for opposing bosses. The parties settled in 1992.

Cooksey had stopped paying dues in July 1990, due to lack of work. Wall stopped in Feb. 1992, intending to cut all ties with LIUNA. But when questions arose about the effect of the settlement on their pension credits, the two men attempted to rejoin. In Apr. 1992, the union rebuffed Cooksey’s attempt, saying there were no jobs available and it was union policy not to accept members absent work opportunities. The union told Wall in Aug. 1993 that he was not eligible for readmission because he had not paid dues for a year and that he couldn’t join as a new member until there were jobs or he found a job as a laborer. Both sought work through the hiring hall.

The two again sought readmission through “reforms” established in the highly-controversial deal between LIUNA and the Dep’t of Justice which created the failed “internal reform effort” in 1995. They were again refused work. In Dec. 1995, the union barred the two men from using the hiring hall but, after complaining to the LIUNA general counsel, they were again allowed into the hiring hall.

In Jan. 1996, a union boss wrote Wall that he was barred under the LIUNA ethics code from rejoining the union and that the official would refer the matter to LIUNA’s inspector general. A union attorney agreed that Wall and Cooksey were both barred. But, the LIUNA’s “in-house prosecutor,” the ethically-challenged Robert D. Luskin, took the position that no one could be barred without following the union’s ethics  procedure.

Wall received a job referral in July 1996 and asked to rejoin the union, but the union still denied him membership. When Luskin directed the local to readmit Wall and Cooksey, the LIUNA general counsel asserted that the two men could not rejoin the union because LIUNA’s union constitution only allowed readmission within 12 months of allowing membership to lapse. Luskin then caved. The two sued in May 1997. The district court dismissed the complaint in May 1999, ruling the claims were time-barred. [BNA 8/29/00]