Union’s anti-Free Speech Rules Tossed by Federal Judge

U.S. Dist. Judge Gladys Kessler (D.C., Clinton) ordered the Intl. Assn. of Iron Wrkrs. (IAIW) to remove sections of its constitution that infringed on the free-speech rights of its members.  In issuing the order, Judge Kessler also granted a summary judgment motion by Carl Bishop and Oscar Ingram, members of Local 387 in Atlanta, against the IAIW. 


They sued the union in Feb. of last yr. after being fined a combined $6,000 for contacting the U.S. Dept. of Labor and NLPC for help in getting access to the Local’s financial records.  By doing so, the union claimed that Bishop and Ingram violated provisions of the IAIW constitution requiring members to exhaust all internal procedures before seeking outside help in resolving a problem with the union, and barring discussion of union business with anyone outside the union. 


Soon after the suit was filed, the Intl. dropped all penalties against Bishop and Ingram, but defended the constitutional provisions.  But in her March 1 ruling, Judge Kessler agreed with Bishop and Ingram that those provisions violated the right of union members to free speech and to sue unions in federal court under the Labor-Mgmt. Reporting & Disclosure Act (LMRDA).


The Intl. union claimed that the no-outside-discussion rule applied only to speech that interfered with the union’s bargaining duties (such as encouraging wildcat strikes in violation of a no-strike agreement).  But Judge Kessler found that the language of the constitutional provision was far broader in scope, and could be applied to any outside discussion by a union member. [Bishop, et al v. IAIW, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3229]