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RETAIL CLERKS UNION, LOCAL 648 v. RETAIL CLERKS IN

April 11, 1969

Retail Clerks Union, Local 648 et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Retail Clerks International Association et al., Defendants


Gesell, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

GESELL, District Judge.

The Retail Clerks International Association (RCIA), an international union with some 600,000 members, and certain of its principal officers are defendants named in an Amended Complaint filed by certain members and locals of the Union alleging violations of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. ยง 401 et seq. The jurisdiction of the Court is invoked under Title I, Title V and Title VI of that Act. After several pretrials narrowing the issues and a determination that good cause existed for filing the Amended Complaint under Title V, testimony was taken and depositions filed. Briefs were exchanged and full argument had on the record thus made.

 This cause of action is pressed following the RCIA's first contested election since 1944. That election, held in June 1968, resulted in a victory for the administration slate and the defeat of challengers who were members of the Reformation, Revitalization, Reconstruction (RRR) slate. The validity of this election is not before the Court, but was questioned in a complaint filed on behalf of the defeated candidates under Title IV of the LMRDA with the Secretary of Labor. The Secretary's jurisdiction with respect to setting aside the election is exclusive, Calhoon v. Harvey, 379 U.S. 134, 13 L. Ed. 2d 190, 85 S. Ct. 292 (1964), and the Court has no jurisdiction in this action to inquire into and does not undertake to inquire into the validity of the election. *fn1"

 The Amended Complaint alleges that two former Vice Presidents of the Union, John T. Haletsky and Charles J. Kelleher, were discharged as Organizing Directors in retaliation for their unsuccessful political opposition to the administration slate after they had run for Union office in the 1968 contested election. It is further alleged that RCIA and certain key officers of the Union have, since the contested election, improperly used their authority by attempting to suppress an organization known as the Committee for a Democratic Election (CFDE), which is responsible for the prosecution of this lawsuit and which is seeking, in the other proceedings mentioned, to set aside the results of the contested election. Finally, it is alleged that the long-time President of RCIA, James A. Suffridge, now President Emeritus, was ineligible to serve in those offices and that his acceptance of such offices and their financial rewards constitutes a breach of trust within the meaning of the LMRDA.

 These three major issues here presented must be adjudicated in the light of the provisions and underlying purposes of the LMRDA. Nothing is served by discussing these purposes and provisions of the Act in detail. In the implementation of the Act, courts have frequently emphasized the paramount considerations of national policy which resulted in enactment after long and careful hearings before the Congress. Only a few of these decisions need be cited here: Wirtz v. Hotel, Motel & Club Employees, 391 U.S. 492, 20 L. Ed. 2d 763, 88 S. Ct. 1743 (1968); Wirtz v. Local 153, Glass Bottle Blowers Assn., 389 U.S. 463, 19 L. Ed. 2d 705, 88 S. Ct. 643 (1968); Calhoon v. Harvey, 379 U.S. 134, 13 L. Ed. 2d 190, 85 S. Ct. 292 (1964); Bakery & Confectionery Workers Internat'l Union of America v. Ratner, 118 U.S. App. D.C. 269, 335 F.2d 691 (D.C. Cir. 1964). As these and other decisions reiterate, the Act guarantees union members a full right to participate in the political affairs of their union without interference or retribution and requires elected union officials to act without abusing their positions of trust. Thus, as was said in Wirtz v. Hotel, Motel & Club Employees, supra,

 
A pervasive theme in the congressional debates about the election provisions was that revelations of corruption, dictatorial practices and racketeering in some unions investigated by Congress indicated a need to protect the rights of rank-and-file members to participate fully in the operation of their union through processes of democratic self-government, and, through the election process, to keep the union leadership responsive to the membership. This theme is made explicit in the reports of the Labor Committees of both Houses of Congress. It is reflected in the discrete provisions of Title IV and also of Title I, the "Bill of Rights" for union members. . . . 391 U.S. at 497-498.

 The provisions of the Act are manifest, its reach is extensive and the obligation of the Federal Courts to carry forward the sound underlying congressional mandate is beyond dispute.

 I.

 The Court first considers the issue as to the discharges of Haletsky and Kelleher, who were employed by RCIA as Organizing Directors. It is contended these discharges were in retribution for their participation as leading figures in the election contest which challenged the long-established management of RCIA.

 Haletsky and Kelleher had each had a long experience in the Union. As Organizing Directors they were each responsible for Union activities in major sectors of the country. Both of these men had performed their duties as Organizing Directors in full conformity with Union policies. Indeed, they had been made Vice Presidents in recognition of their competent service. Nonetheless, they were each discharged as Organizing Directors soon after the ballots had been counted and their defeat as members of the opposition slate announced. Haletsky had been a candidate for President and Kelleher for Vice President. The election contest had been intense and many charges involving personalities and policies were made back and forth in the course of the campaign.

 Haletsky and Kelleher received notice of discharge in identical form by separate letters dated August 16, 1968. The letter to Haletsky read as follows:

 
Please be advised that effective September 1, 1968, newly elected Vice President Ronald L. Meeker will accede to the office of International Ninth Vice President and will immediately assume the position of Organizing Director of the Southwestern Division.
 
Your term of office as International Tenth Vice President will expire at midnight, August 31, 1968. As of such date, your position as Organizing Director of the Southwestern Division will terminate. At that time, you will, of course, turn over to the new Organizing Director, all properties and possessions of the International Association, including the 1968 Oldsmobile, which are in your possession or custody. Your credentials of office and airlines credit card are to be forwarded to International headquarters.
 
We wish to express our appreciation for the services which you have provided to the International Association and we know that you will do everything within your power to facilitate this transition for the benefit of the new Ninth Vice President and Organizing Director and the Retail Clerks International Association. (Plaintiffs' Exhibit No. 15)

 No alternative employment of any kind elsewhere in RCIA was offered or suggested to either man. No reason for discharge was given Haletsky or Kelleher either before or at the time of the transmittal of the formal uninformative discharge letters. This course of events occurred despite the fact that Haletsky had been an employee of the International for over three years and Kelleher for over sixteen years and both had competently and faithfully performed their respective duties as Organizing Directors.

 An RCIA Vice President receives no compensation merely because he is a Vice President. Under the provisions of the Constitution of the Union, a Vice President is compensated only for duties he performs in other capacities. *fn2" An Organizing Director receives a substantial salary as well as substantial responsibility. Paid jobs were undoubtedly desired for the new Vice Presidents elected on the administration slate. The discharge opened two positions as Organizing Directors for successful vice presidential candidates.

 The decision to discharge was made by James T. Housewright, a former Vice President, who was the successful candidate for President on the administration ticket. He defeated Haletsky. Housewright testified that the decision to discharge developed in his mind during the course of the campaign and was made for the following reasons:

 
Well, I had three reasons for terminating then Vice-Presidents Kelleher and Haletsky.
 
One was because of my deep conviction that our policies and practices with regard to vice-presidents serving in divisions as divisional directors was one of the major reasons for our success.
 
The second reason would be that I had been an organizing director for approximately six years before becoming a vice-president, and I fully appreciated the value of being a vice-president and organizing director of a division. It enhances one's prestige. He is taken into counsel with outside organizations much more freely. He is given recognition and respect that he otherwise would not receive. He can communicate more effectively with the ...

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