DOL Wins New Elections at Virgin Islands Local

U.S. Dist. Court for the Virgin Islands approved a Stipulation of Settlement and Order Sept. 7 between the Dep’t of Labor and United Steelworkers of Am. Local 8526. The agreement calls for Local 8526 to conduct new nominations and an election for all officer positions, under DOL’s supervision. The new election must be held before to Mar. 14, 2002. DOL filed suit in Nov. 1997 seeking to overturn the local’s Apr. 1997 election after an investigation by DOL’s Office of Labor-Mgmt. Standards Gulf Coast Region established that the local failed to provide proper notice of election and that the union’s meeting attendance requirement rendered all but 3% of the membership ineligible for office. [DOL 9/7/01]

Fired Union Supporter of California Proposition 226 Loses Wrongful Discharge Suit
Former union secretary Nattie Thunderburk, who was fired for her support  of Cal. Proposition 226 (a 1998 paycheck protection ballot initiative) is barred from bringing a wrongful discharge action against the United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union, the Cal. Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District held Oct. 22. Thunderburk, ex-secretary of UFCW Local 234, had access to a wide range of confidential union information, which if disclosed “could have thwarted union policies and objectives,” said the court. “[D]espite limitations normally imposed on employers by California’s wrongful termination law, UFCW Local 324, had an “unfettered right to terminate confidential employees” like Thunderburk under the federal Labor Mgmt. Reporting & Disclosure Act of 1959 (the Landrum-Griffin Act).

As an executive secretary for the local, Thunderburk was responsible for providing services to Local 324 business agents — the frontline union officers who are responsible for ensuring that the terms of contracts are met and for processing individual members’ grievances.  In the spring of 1998, unions throughout the state were campaigning to defeat Proposition 226 — an initiative that would have prohibited unions from spending dues money for political purposes unless each member provided written consent to do so.

Contrary to the local’s position, Thunderburk supported the initiative and made her views known at work to several of the business agents, as well as outside the workplace. Soon afterwards, the local stopped including Thunderburk in meetings and required her to start punching a time clock. On June 22, two weeks after voters rejected Proposition 226, she was terminated for typing a personal memo during company time.

Thunderburk sued the union for wrongful discharge. The union moved for summary judgment, on the grounds that her claims were preempted by the LMRDA. The president of Local 324 stated that Thunderburk was discharged “because she was disrupting good employer/employee relations and it was therefore in the best interests of the union to terminate her.” An Orange County trial judge granted Local 324’s petition and Thunderburk appealed  Affirming the lower court, the appellate court held that the LMRDA barred the suit. The law “provides Local 324, under the circumstances of this case, with the unfettered right to terminate confidential employees such as plaintiff,” Justice Barton Gaut wrote for the court. Justices Manuel Ramirez and Thomas Hollenhorst joined in the opinion. [BNA 10/29/01]