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HR Solutions

USDOL Sues Carpenters Over 2005 Election

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Claims that Union imposed unreasonable limits on candidates and blew procedure for election of delegates

05/17/06

Last week the Department of Labor filed a complaint in federal court challenging the legality of the 2005 election of various officers of the Regional Council of Carpenters, including President/Executive Secretary-Treasurer, First Vice President, Second Vice President, Warden and various other high ranking offices in the union.

The Regional Council is one of the largest trade union councils in the country, having grown in recent years to encompass locals as far as west as Iowa and far south in downstate Illinois.

According to the complaint, the July 2, 2005 election was won by acclamation of the union's delegates, but several members seeking to run for office protested.  They claimed that the union imposed an unreasonable candidacy requirement: a nominee for a Chicago Regional Council office must have served as a delegate for three successive years prior to being nominated for office.  The complaint is unclear on the background on this allegation, but evidently the effect of imposing this requirement would be to eliminate the overwhelming majority of union members from being a candidate.  Under federal law, union election criteria cannot have such a mathematical impact.  This was the Supreme Court ruling in United Steelworkers of America v. Usery (1977) (meeting attendance rule illegal; made over 96% of members of local union ineligible to run for office).

Also, the Carpenters suit claims that not all delegates participating in the July 2005 nominations and election were themselves elected by secret ballot.

The DOL contends that the union broke the law, specifically Section 401 of the federal Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.  The relief?  Start over:  void the elections and hold new nominations and elections of delegates for each of the forty-two locals within the council, at the union's expense. 

Craig Oswald of the US Attorney's office is lead counsel for the USDOL.