Federal Court Slaps Down Carpenters’ Effort to Undermine Local Control

On Oct. 8, U.S. Dist. Judge Richard G. Stearns (Mass., Clinton) rejected the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s defense of Carpenters chief Doug McCarron’s scheme to transfer power from the locals to unelected regional councils that he set up.  In 1996, McCarron consolidated all the United Bhd. of Carpenters’ (UBC) bargaining powers into 55 councils that were controlled by exec. secy.-treasurers who were not elected to their posts by the union membership.  In addition to their collective bargaining powers, the councils have exclusive authority to submit grievances to binding arbitration, and only they can appoint members to trial cmtes for union discipline.  Local unions can only ratify agreements and handle grievances in their early stages.


In 1999, a group of New England carpenters filed a complaint with the Dept. of Labor (DOL).  But Clinton labor secy. Alexis Herman, followed by current secy. Elaine Chao, defended the new UBC regime, even after the dissidents sued McCarron in federal court.  In Feb. of 2002, the 1st Circ. Ct. of Appeals ordered DOL to reconsider its position in light of its own 30-yr. rule that any unit assuming the “functions” of local unions must submit to direct election, as do locals under the Labor Mgmt. Reporting & Disclosure Act (LMRDA).


On Jan. 31 this year, DOL submitted a “supplemental statement of reasons” claiming that unless the regional councils supersede nearly all of the local unions’ functions, then the regional bodies need not be considered equivalent to local unions under the LMRDA.  But Judge Stearns found that DOL had effectively changed its own regulation without explanation as required under the Administrative Procedure Act.  Such a “deviation from prior interpretations without sufficient explanation may be considered arbitrary and capricious and therefore subject to judicial reversal.”  Judge Stearns granted the dissidents’ motion for summary judgment against DOL for supporting McCarron. [Thomas Harrington v. Elaine Chao, U.S.D.C. MA, Civil Action 00-CV-11028-RGS, 10/8/03]