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TEAMSTERS FOR A DEMOCRATIC UNION v. SECRETARY OF L

March 6, 1986

Teamsters For A Democratic Union, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Secretary Of Labor, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

Oliver Gasch, Judge.

 MEMORANDUM

 This case challenges the Secretary of Labor's interpretation of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("Act"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 401-531 (1982). Plaintiffs assert that the Secretary has incorrectly interpreted the provision of Title IV of the Act governing the election of officers of national and international unions. See Act § 401(a), 29 U.S.C. § 481(a) (1982). Plaintiffs seek declarations that the Secretary of Labor's current interpretation is contrary to the Act and that the Secretary has the statutory authority to issue a new regulation requiring unions to utilize different voting procedures.

 Currently before the Court are three motions. Plaintiffs move for summary judgment. The Secretary of Labor and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("Teamsters"), an intervenor, move for dismissal.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The Act was enacted in 1959 in response to congressional investigations of labor-management relations that disclosed numerous "instances of breach of trust, corruption, disregard of the rights of individual employees, and other failures to observe high standards of responsibility and ethical conduct." Act § 2(b), 29 U.S.C. § 401(b) (1982). A "pervading premise" of the Act was that these abuses could be prevented by "full and active participation by the rank and file in the affairs of the union." American Federation of Musicians v. Wittstein, 379 U.S. 171, 182-83, 13 L. Ed. 2d 214, 85 S. Ct. 300 (1964).

 The Secretary of Labor has construed section 401(a) of the Act as follows:

 
Officers of labor organizations who have been elected by secret ballot vote of their respective memberships may, by virtue of their election to office, serve as delegates to conventions at which officers will be elected, if the constitution and bylaws of the labor organization so provide.

 29 C.F.R. § 452.120 (1985). Thus, in the Secretary's view the law does not require special elections for delegates to national conventions. Rather, a union may provide that local union officials elected by secret ballot will automatically serve as delegates to national conventions. The Secretary's interpretation was first made soon after the Act became law and has remained unchanged for twenty-five years. *fn1"

 Many unions either directly elect their national officers by secret ballot or hold special elections in which all delegates for their national conventions are elected by secret ballot. Other unions, including the Teamsters, use a different procedure. The Teamsters' constitution provides that local officers and business agents who have been elected by secret ballot shall serve as delegates to any national convention held during their term of office. Because of the staggered terms of local officers, election of those officers who become ex officio delegates occurs between six and twenty-nine months prior to the national convention. If a local chapter is entitled to more delegates, those delegates are selected by secret ballot elections held between ninety and thirty days before the convention. The Teamsters have used this method of selection since 1961.

 The legality of 29 C.F.R. § 452.120 was first challenged in January, 1981, when several Teamsters members asked the Secretary to require special delegate elections before the Teamsters' 1981 national convention. The Secretary declined to do so. While he found special elections to be "a worthy concept," the Secretary concluded: "As desirable as this may be for members, the Act does not prescribe when delegate elections should be conducted. Nor does the Act prohibit local officers from serving as ex officio delegates to an international convention." *fn2"

 On August 9, 1985, plaintiffs herein filed a petition asking the Secretary to formally rescind 29 C.F.R. § 452.120 and to promulgate a new interpretation requiring special delegate elections to be held within a specified time prior to national conventions. The Secretary refused, reaffirming his 1981 position and noting that the "policy set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 452.120 is not inconsistent with the provisions of the Act" because section 401(a) of the Act "requires only that the delegates be elected by secret ballot."

 Plaintiffs responded by filing the instant action on November 4, 1985. They allege that 29 C.F.R. § 452.120 undermines the Act's purpose of promoting union democracy because local officials often are elected well in advance of national conventions, before the issues to be addressed in those conventions have surfaced. In addition, they contend that union members voting for local officers usually make their decision solely upon the candidates' positions on issues of purely local concern. As such, the Teamsters' delegate selection process allegedly has the effect of muting members' voices on issues ...


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