DOL Reconsidering Argument Against Union Democracy

On order from the U.S. 1st Circ. Ct. of Appeals, officials at the U.S. Dept. of Labor are reconsidering their support of  United Bhd. of Carpenters (UBC) chief Douglas McCarron’s bid to transfer bargaining powers from the UBC’s locals to its regional councils. Since withdrawing the UBC from the AFL-CIO in 2001 in a dispute over back dues, McCarron has hosted Pres. Bush at two Labor Day picnics, and has actively supported Bush’s efforts to allow Alaskan oil drilling. McCarron was one of just a few union officials invited to the President’s economic forum in Waco, Texas, last summer.

In 1996, McCarron consolidated all the union’s collective bargaining powers into 55 “regional councils.” The councils were controlled by exec. secy. treasurers (ESTs) who filled their staff with the same council delegates who supposedly controlled the ESTs.

In 1999, a group of New England carpenters filed a complaint with DOL, charging that the McCarron scheme violated the members’ right to vote directly for those officials responsible for collective bargaining. President Clinton’s labor secy., Alexis Herman, claimed that under the Labor Mgmt. Reporting & Disclosure Act (LMRDA), only local unions were required to have elections of officers.

As the dissidents’ appeal made its way through the federal courts, Pres. Bush’s new labor secy., Elaine Chao, maintained that argument, even claiming that overturning McCarron’s councils could “undermine self-government within the labor movement.” But the 1st Circ. Ct. ruled in Feb. that DOL contradicted its own 30-yr.-old regulation that any union body performing collective bargaining was required to be elected by the membership. The three-judge panel of Juan Torruella (Reagan), Sandra Lynch (Clinton) and Kermit Lipez (Clinton) ordered DOL to reconsider its position. That reconsideration is still pending. [Harrington v. Chao, 280 F.3d: 2002 U.S. App.: The New Republic  12/16/02]