Transit Union International Election Invalid; Rule Governing Elections Was “Anti-Democratic,” Judge Rules

March 30, 2001

Transit Union International Election Invalid; Rule Governing Elections Was “Anti-Democratic,” Judge Rules

Workers Sued Over Requirement that International Convention Delegates
Must Attend Six Union Meetings in Two Years

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A court has invalidated the Amalgamated Transit Union’s (ATU) 1998 international election, saying that one of the rules governing the election process violates federal law.

Specifically, a “meeting attendance” rule, requiring members of certain unions to attend a set number of meetings to be eligible to run in an election for delegates to the international convention, violates the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), according to U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green of the District of Columbia. The requirement is “antidemocratic,” she said, because it generally renders more than 90 percent of union members ineligible to be a convention delegate.

The March 28 ruling is a victory for ATU Local 241 member Richard Stomper and four other workers who contested the validity of the election. Public Citizen represented Stomper and his co-workers because Public Citizen historically has taken an interest in problems caused by unions’ meeting attendance rules.

“Meeting attendance rules are a common exclusionary tactic in the labor movement and are designed to make it difficult for ordinary members to run for office against the incumbents,” said Paul Alan Levy, attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which represented the workers. “We’re very pleased the judge has agreed that this onerous rule thwarts the very democratic process that elections are supposed to be about.”

Richard Stomper said, “In our own local union we have seen the destructive effects of exclusionary meeting requirements: uncontested elections, frustration of the members with lack of alternative candidates for whom to cast their votes, demoralization of promising potential candidates for office after having been kept off the ballot, lack of confidence in the integrity and capability of the union, lower attendance at union meetings as incumbents discourage members from coming.

“In a word, we have seen entrenchment of union leaders who are insensitive to the needs of the members they are supposed to represent because they feel their position is secure.”

The ATU election at issue was held in Chicago in the fall of 1998, and 21 positions were filled. Stomper ran for one of 18 international vice-president positions and lost. Under ATU rules, the qualifications necessary to become a convention delegate are the same as those needed to be a local union officer.

ATU rules say that to be eligible for office, workers in certain unions must have attended six local meetings in each of the two years preceding and including the nomination meeting. Local meetings must be held at least monthly.

Although an ATU member seeking to run for international office need not satisfy a meeting attendance rule, a member cannot win without support of delegates. Therefore, a system that renders most members ineligible to be convention delegates has a profound effect on the ability of a worker to win office.

Before and after the election, Stomper filed a complaint with the U.S. Secretary of Labor, who sued the ATU, asking the court to invalidate the election and order a new one. The Secretary also claimed that the rules violated the LMRDA in two other aspects, and the judge agreed. Stomper and his colleagues intervened in the lawsuit, focusing solely on the meeting attendance rule.

In its decision, the court turned to a 1987 Court of Appeals decision, Doyle v. Brock, that deemed unreasonable a rule requiring candidates for local union office to have attended at least half of the union meetings in the preceding 12 months. In the Doyle case, the rule rendered 97 percent of the union membership ineligible for office.

Although the Doyle case applied to an election of local union officers — not an election of convention delegates — the judge in this case found that the Doyle case should be followed. The ATU requirement has “a highly antidemocratic effect on delegate elections,” Green wrote.

Green dismissed the ATU’s arguments that the meeting attendance requirement was needed to ensure that union members who hold positions of responsibility have a demonstrated interest and commitment to the union and are familiar with union affairs. “The antidemocratic effect of the meeting-attendance requirements clearly outweigh the union’s interest in imposing them,” the judge wrote.

Stomper was hopeful that Green’s decision would help his union.

“I am optimistic that with this decision we can begin to reverse the long decline and disintegration we have experienced,” he said. “We can begin to recruit and develop a new generation of local union leaders. We can attract more members to our union meetings as our officers see the need to encourage attendance rather than the narrow self-interest involved in discouraging members from coming to meetings.”