Online Rights in Union Elections – Three members of the American Postal Workers Union who are running for union office sued to vindicate their right to have campaign literature distributed to those union members for whom the union has email addresses, invoking a federal labor law statute that requires the union to distribute at the members’ expense so long as the request for distribution is reasonable. The union keeps members up to date using email, and plaintiffs argue that it is only fair for candidates to have access to that same mechanism, thus bringing the 1959 law into the 21st century. The court granted a preliminary injunction ordering the union to make available its entire database of email addresses for use by candidates for dissemination of their campaign literature. The union then sought to frustrate implementation of the injunction by imposing stringent conditions on email campaigning, and plaintiffs have move to enforce the injunction. In addition, the union’s general counsel and election committee, both selected by the incumbent officers who are running for re-election, have ordered candidates not to use the initials “APWU” in their slate name or web site domain name, complaining that the union’s trademark in its initials so demands. The rank-and-file candidates have amended their complaint to seek declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that neither trademark law, nor the First Amendment, nor section 101(a)(2) of the LMRDA allows the union to regulate their campaign literature in this way.
The union withdrew its demand that campaign emails include specified language in their subject line, and eventually agreed to a permanent consent decree requiring that email campaigning be allowed, forbidding union regulation of email subject lines, and entitling candidates to use the union’s name and initials so long as they do not imply union endorsement of their candidacies. Our clients and most of their slate won the election; the union agreed to pay the candidates’ attorney fees under the common benefit doctrine.