Dissidents Win LMRDA Suit; Union Forced to Strike Anti-Speech Provision from its Constitution

U.S. Dist. Judge James Robertson (D.D.C., Clinton) ruled Mar. 6 that a provision of the United Ass’n of Plumbers & Pipe Fitters’ constitution calling for expulsion of any member who distributes “letters of falsehood and misrepresentation” violates the Labor-Mgmt. Reporting & Disclosure Act of 1959 (a.k.a., the Landrum-Griffin Act) and must be excised. Robertson granted summary judgment to union members Charles Callihan and Wilmer Thomas, who claimed that Section 199 of the union’s constitution violated their free speech rights under LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(2).

Robertson ordered the union to excise the provision from its constitution and ordered the union to publish the court’s ruling within 60 days in the union’s membership publication. That notice, the court specified, should be mentioned in the publication’s table of contents and printed in a type size no smaller than 22 point bold for the heading and 11 point for the body of the court order. Robertson also has scheduled a status conference for Apr. 2.

Callihan reportedly published a newsletter that often contained articles criticizing union officials. The business manager of Callihan’s local filed internal union charges in Mar. 2000, alleging that Callihan had circulated a flyer, called “Members for Union Democracy” that contained “falsehoods about the Local Union” and other “inflammatory statements.” The business manager subsequently dropped the charges.

Section 199 of the union’s constitution provides that: “Any member of the United Association found guilty of sending out circular letters of falsehood and misrepresentation shall be expelled, and the Local Union that permits such action shall also be expelled.”  Callihan alleged that he faces constant criticism and hostile treatment because he has been branded a troublemaker and that he fears future prosecution under Section 199. Callihan and Thomas filed suit in Dec. 2000 challenging Section 199 of the union’s constitution and alleging that the union had failed to advise members of their LMRDA rights.

Arthur L. Fox of Lobel, Novins & Lamont in Washington, D.C., represented Callihan and Thomas. Sally M. Tedrow and Dinah S. Leventhal of O’Donoghue & O’Donoghue in Washington, D.C., represented the union. [BNA 3/29/02]

However, John J. Dolfi, member of UA Local 354 in Youngwood, Pa., informed the Union Corruption Update that UA members are still having their rights violated. According to Dolfi, on Mar. 22, 17 days after Robertson’s struck down Section 199, the Local 354’s business manager continued an attempt to prosecute a dissident member under Section 199. At a hearing before the local’s executive board, the business manager allegedly proceeded to pursue the imposition of penalties against the dissident. Reportedly, when presented, by the dissident, with Robertson’s recent ruling, the board postponed the hearing until UA could file an appeal to Robertson’s ruling. Allegedly, the business manger continued his prosecution against “free speech” citing instead Section 157 of the UA constitution, which is the UA member’s initiation pledge. Dolfi commented: “This is a glaring and self evident transparent perversion of a members pledge of honor, duty, etc., by an alleged unethical, diabolical and vindictive union officer to stifle the freedom of speech as guaranteed under Title I of LMRDA.”