California Boss Gets Away With Tainted Election Victory

U.S. Dist. Judge David F. Levi (E.D. Cal., G.H.W. Bush) ruled May 2 that the Dep’t of Labor failed to show that a candidate for business agent of United Ass’n of Plumbers & Pipe Fitters Local 442 violated the union’s election bylaws against electioneering and campaigning within 100 feet of the polling place on election day. In 1997, the local based in Stockton and Modesto, Cal., adopted bylaws that included detailed rules for conducting elections. Section 28(j) of the bylaws states: “No campaigning or electioneering shall be allowed inside the building where the election is conducted or closer than 100 feet from the entrance to the building.”

Nevertheless, candidate Ronald Hayes spent most of election day within 100 feet of the polling entrance of the local’s office; he stood next to a driveway through which members had to pass, greeted them, and shook hands with them. As a result, DOL sued the local under Title IV of the Labor Mgmt. Reporting & Disclosure Act of 1959, which requires that unions conduct fair elections in accordance with the union constitution and bylaws. DOL sought to overturn the election results and hold a new election because it maintained Hayes, who won the election by a mere six votes, violated the bylaw.

Granting summary judgment to Local 442, Levi found no evidence that Hayes asked union members to vote for him. “In the absence of such evidence, the union’s position that Hayes was not engaged in campaigning or electioneering and, therefore did not violate [the local’s bylaws] is reasonable, if not ineluctable,” Levi said. He found that courts should not substitute their judgment for that of union bosses in interpreting union rules unless the interpretation is patently unreasonable.

In Oct. 2000, Hayes, who was then the local president and was running instead for business agent, appointed three members to serve as the election committee for the Dec. 16, 2000, election. As a candidate for business agent, Hayes could have designated an election observer, but he did not do so. The voting took place inside the local’s meeting hall, and a sign was posted prohibiting campaigning and electioneering within 100 feet of the entrance.

Hayes was the first person to vote. He told a member of the election committee, who did not object, that he planned to stay on union property during the vote because he was concerned about possible voter intimidation. Hayes spent about an hour in his truck in the parking lot and then spent most of the rest of the day standing at the edge of the driveway to the union property. He spoke with approximately 111 of the 233 members who cast votes.  Again, his margin of victory was only six votes. [BNA 5/16/02]