Atlanta Workers Sue Hierarchy for Violating Free Speech Rights

Two dissidents from Atlanta Local 387 sued the Intl. Assn. of Iron Wrkrs. on Feb. 25 for using union discipline to squash their efforts to ferret out corruption in the troubled Local.  Carl Bishop has been a union member for 20 years, and a member of Local 387 for seven.  Oscar Ingram has been a trustee of the Local since Feb. 2000.

The two have joined other members in trying to get information about the Local’s finances for years.  In April of last year, Steven Jones, the Local’s ex-secy. treasurer, was sentenced for embezzling $90,000 from the Local and an apprenticeship fund.  Throughout the Spring, Bishop and Ingram sought to verify that Local bus. mgr. Hugh Dryden Jr. had reimbursed the Local for personal airfare they believed he had charged to the union credit card.  They also tried to obtain records of Dryden’s cell phone usage, paid for by Local 387.

After being rebuffed by the Local hierarchy, Bishop contacted the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) and NLPC in June to find out what legal right he had to the information.  On July 25, acc. to the lawsuit, Dryden launched a verbal tirade at Bishop and Ingram at a Local meeting, inciting the members to “an unruly mob” that demanded their expulsion.  Soon after, Dryden and Billy Joe Walker, the Intl. liaison to Local 387, instigated the filing of union charges against Bishop and Ingram.  The two were accused of violating the Ironworkers constitution by not exhausting all internal procedures, inciting dissension among the members, and revealing information about the union and its bosses to outside organizations, incl. the DOL.

On Sept. 5, a “jury” of 12 members, eight of whom had signed the charge against Ingram, found him guilty and fined him $1,000, though he could escape the fine by apologizing to the hierachy and resigning his position as trustee.  Two weeks later, Bishop was also found guilty and fined $10,000.  Bishop and Ingram appealed to the Intl. HQ in Washington, D.C.  Ingram’s fine was upheld, while Bishop’s was reduced to $5,000.

For filing charges against the two dissidents on the basis of their contacting DOL and NLPC, their attorney argues that the union hierarchy violated their right of free speech in the union, guaranteed by Title I of the Labor-Mgmt. Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).  The two members asked the U.S. Dist. Ct. for Wash. D.C. to throw out their “convictions” and to strike those provisions of the union constitution under which Bishop and Ingram were charged for expressing themselves.

The case has been assigned to Dist. Judge Gladys Kessler (Clinton). [U.S.D.Ct., D.C. 1:03CV00344]