By law, union elections must adhere to democratic process. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, or at least one of its major regional councils, appears not to have gotten the message. Now the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) wants to send a more forceful one. On May 8, the DOL asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to void an election held last July by the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters (CRC). The department asked a federal judge to order the CRC, which represents 47,000 workers in the Chicago area plus portions of Wisconsin and Iowa, to hold new nominations and elections for the following positions: president/executive secretary-treasurer; first vice president; second vice president; warden; conductor; three trustees; and three regional council representatives. DOL also wants new nominations and elections for all 42 local unions within the council.
The Labor Department charges the labor council with holding a secretive, undemocratic election in violation of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). Specifically, the council allegedly violated LMRDA Section 401(e) by denying members “a reasonable opportunity to nominate and to be nominated as delegates because of an unreasonable candidacy qualification, which required nominees for CRC officers to have served as a delegate for three successive years prior to nominations.” The DOL suit also accuses the Chicago Regional Council of violating Section 401(d) of the act by exempting participants in nominations and voting process from secret-ballot requirements.
The suit acts upon a series of complaints filed by four Chicago-area Carpenters union members in the wake of last July’s elections. The four had complained to UBC General President Douglas McCarron. After an extensive wait, McCarron still had not made a final decision. At that point, the members filed individual complaints with the Labor Department. One of the complainants, Jeff Fearon, accuses the union bosses of rigging the election from the start by failing to provide advance notice of an election. He added that many delegates from individual locals had been appointed and were not elected by members. “By law this union is supposed to have free and fair elections, but that’s not happening,” said Fearon. “We’re supposed to have a process that resembles the American political system, but it never seems to happen.” Gene Tenner, CRC director of communications, responded that as this was a legal matter, the union had no comment. (Daily Labor Report, 5/18/06).