Association for Union Democracy

Meeting attendance rule in Utility Workers local disqualifies reform candidates

AUD has been providing guidance to a longtime supporter of union democracy who is facing barriers to his slate challenging the incumbents in his local. JJ Popio, a utility worker in Ohio, first contacted AUD back in February of last year with a number of questions about his rights as a union member, particularly in light of an upcoming election. He wanted to challenge the incumbents, who have been in office for 15 years and, he believes, are no longer working for the best interests of the rank-and-file members.

Several of the candidates faced disqualification due to meeting attendance rules, which are complicated and challenging to address. In UDR 198 (January/February 2013) AUD ran a story on Dennis Hamilton, a USW member, also in Ohio, who was disqualified for failing to meet his local’s meeting attendance requirement. Hamilton took his complaint to the Department of Labor, noting that the meeting attendance requirement had been waived for the past two elections, but not for the current election. Although Hamilton was not running for a protected position himself (only positions that sit on the Executive Board are covered under the LMRDA), The Department of Labor found his complaint to be valid and filed suit against the local seeking to nullify the election results.

Popio and his slate members face a more difficult battle. Their local does not have this same history of waiving the meeting attendance requirement, so they must rely on precedent, which is mixed and inconsistent at best. Like Dennis Hamilton, Popio is in Ohio, so the courts have previously decided that some meeting attendance rules are unreasonable, but without the same history of waiving those rules, the court might find differently. In 1987, Doyle V. Secretary of Labor voided a meeting attendance rule in a Washington DC local because the rule would have disqualified over 90% of otherwise eligible members. Yet in 2000, a Massachusetts court found that a rule that would have the effect of disqualifying 96% of the local’s otherwise qualified membership was legal. In that case, the court determined that the meeting requirement of 3 meetings in the 12 months prior to nominations was not “burdensome” to the members. That same year, an Indiana court found that a rule requiring nominees to attend eight meetings in the 12 months prior to nominations to meet the criteria to be considered “burdensome.”

Disqualified members of the slate have submitted letters protesting their disqualification. Results were posted soon after the October 23, 2014 election; though Popio and his slate did not win, they still garnered enough votes to keep morale high for the future.

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