New York Dissent Loses LMRDA Suit

U.S. Dist. Judge Robert W. Sweet, S. Dist. of N.Y., ruled Nov. 13 that the Am. Fed’n of State, County & Mun. Employees did not infringe on a dissident officer’s rights under the Labor-Management Reporting & Disclosure Act, popularly known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, when the union removed him from office and barred him from seeking another position for two years as punishment for making unauthorized mailings. Ray Commer, ex-president of AFSCME Local 375  failed to show that the discipline imposed by an AFSCME judicial panel was directed at suppressing his free speech rights under the LMRDA.

Commer asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction reinstating him as president of the N.Y.C. local and lifting the ban barring him from running for office for two years. Commer contended that the discipline imposed by the AFSCME judicial panel was a retaliatory move aimed at ending his ongoing criticism of union officials.

The punishment was imposed after Commer was found on two occasions to have violated Local 375’s constitution by distributing literature regarding an upcoming local election in the name of the union, but without proper authorization.

After the first incident, Commer was formally reprimanded, warned against repeating his actions, and ordered to compensate the local for the cost of printing and mailing the unauthorized materials. Shortly thereafter, Commer again was charged with improperly using union funds to print and distribute election-related mailings.

The AFSCME judicial panel upheld the charges, and found that Commer had violated the union’s constitution by failing to comply with the initial order that he reimburse the local for the costs of the first mailing. While acknowledging that he failed to seek or obtain the proper authorization to make the mailings, Commer insisted such an effort would be fruitless since those in a position to authorize the mailings were among the individuals he had been criticizing since being elected local president. [BNA 11/29/00 (citing Commer v. McEntee)]