Who should see the membership lists in an election?

A: Here’s what the law says:

“Every bona fide candidate shall have the right, once within 30 days prior to an election of a labor organization in which he is a candidate, to inspect a list containing the names and last known addresses of all members of the labor organization…” (LMRDA, Title 29: Sec. 481(c))

“Bona fide candidate” means a person who is running for office, but not necessarily already nominated. Under LMRDA, such candidates have a right to inspect the list, not just of eligible voters, but of all members of the labor organization (local, council, national, etc.) involved in that election. The union does not have to give them a copy of the list, just allow the candidates to inspect it.

This is a minimum requirement. There is nothing preventing the union from providing more access, or providing a copy of the list, to candidates, or to members, for that matter. If the union has constitutional provisions that provide for more access, then the constitution holds, and can be enforced in state or federal court.

The main thing to remember is that the principle of equality also applies: whatever information is made available to any candidate must be available to all candidates, on an equal basis.

So, is it a good idea to give each candidate a copy of the list?

In general, we think making it easier for people to run for office and get their word out to potential supporters contributes to democracy. It facilitates member participation in the life of the union, and makes it easier for members to discover and prevent abuse of their rights. (The only reasonable exception, in our view, is if releasing that information could result in the employer discovering a member’s union membership and retaliating against them. For example, in an organizing campaign where the union does not yet have recognition.)

There are other ways to handle this issue, including providing member contact information to any other member — not just to candidates — on request, with an opt-out provision for certain information (if a member does not want her phone, address, e-mail etc., shared to all members, she can submit a request to withhold the additional info.). You may also want to explicitly limit the use of the information to union affairs, to prevent a member who also sells ACME Cell Phone Service from flooding members with junk mail and unwanted calls.

You may want to consider putting language like this in your union constitution or bylaws, or election rules:

“The union will provide all bona fide candidates for union office [or all members] with a list of all members of the local or statewide organization in which the election is taking place, with contact information (including name, work location, last known mailing address, e-mail, phone) for those union members (i.e., a state membership list for state-wide elections, a local list for local elections). Candidates [or members] receiving such lists will sign a statement promising not to use the information for purposes not related to internal union affairs, (i.e., not for marketing or other purposes.)”

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