Association for Union Democracy

In Memoriam: Tim Brown

by Paul Alan Levy

I first encountered Tim Brown when he was running for President of the International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots, a union with a long history of suppressing member dissent. He considered the union’s leadership to be badly out of touch with the economic realities confronting the maritime industry and wanted to begin campaigning well before the union convention at which nominations were to be made for the union’s offices. Considering the fact that the conditions under which members worked required them to be out at sea for long periods at a time, using the union’s mailing list was the only sensible way to reach his fellow members to build support before the convention, but under existing union rules, candidates were only allowed to start using the mailing list “once nominations procedures were complete,” that is to say, after the convention.

Brown insisted on campaigning earlier, and we had a quick trip first the federal court in Baltimore, where the union ducked service but showed up when the judge showed that he was willing to hold a preliminary injunction hearing anyway. A few days later we were defending the judge’s preliminary injunction at a special session of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Spartanburg, South Carolina. After we obtained a favorable decision before a panel of three Fourth Circuit judges, IOMMP sought en banc review – that is, review by all judges on that court. That review was granted, and the Fourth Circuit upheld the three-judge panel’s decision. We finally went before the Supreme Court in 1991, where the court established the rule that a prospective candidate’s request to send literature to the union’s list has to be judged based on whether there is a reasonable basis for the member’s request, not whether the request conforms to a union rule which in turn need only be reasonable. In the meantime, Tim had to contest the union’s conduct of the election on other grounds, and only after the election was set aside and re-run under the union’s supervision did Tim get elected.

He went on to serve several terms as IOMMP president, and we had only sporadic contact after that. One time that I particularly recall was when there was a dispute within the union’s executive board and a member of the board, who had been a dissident against previous presidents, called me about his worry that he was going to be brought up on charges for his dissenting views against Tim Brown. Following the rule of exhausting union remedies, I called Tim directly to ask whether we were going to have a legal issue, and his comment was that my would-be client was just hoping to have a union disciplinary legal fight to make a bigger deal out of his policy differences, but that he shouldn’t be worried because, as far as Tim was concerned, this fellow didn’t have any support in the membership and Tim was ready to address the matter politically, not in any heavy-handed manner.

So taking power in the union had not gone to his head; it was a sensible response. In fact, Tim’s commitment to union democracy continued as he was pleased to serve on AUD’s advisory board during his union presidency .

After that, I mostly heard from Tim in his annual holiday letters, with one exception: he kept urging me to bring my teenage sons to try driving an ocean-going ship using the simulator the union had created at its member training center. I thought it was a really cool idea, but I could never get my boys to try it. I don’t think Tim was just being kind to a lawyer who had once served him pro bono. He was proud of his union and proud of its facilities – and maybe he was looking to recruit new masters for his industry.

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