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CAROTHERS v. MCCARTHY

February 6, 1989

WILLIAM J. CAROTHERS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM J. McCARTHY, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

 JOYCE HENS GREEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This case presents a number of interesting and important questions concerning the scope of union members' rights to comment and vote upon collective bargaining agreements that affect the terms and conditions of their employment. Those questions are now before the Court by means of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons outlined below, these motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

 I. Background

 The union involved in this case is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America (Union or Teamsters), a national labor organization with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The union members whose rights are at stake belong to the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a rank-and-file organization that seeks to "reform and democratize" the Union in order to make it "a more effective collective bargaining representative." Complaint para. 9. The collective bargaining agreement at issue is known as the National Automobile Transporters Agreement (NATA or carhaul contract). Our court of appeals recently described the relevant features of the carhaul contract:

 
The NATA is a multi-employer collective bargaining agreement that governs relations between 100 Teamsters locals and 39 employers. It consists of a master agreement setting certain wages and working conditions on a nationwide basis, and a series of supplemental agreements establishing certain terms of employment by region and job classification. The contract is normally negotiated at three-year intervals by the Teamsters' negotiating committee, which, in accordance with the Union constitution, submits negotiated agreements to the entire national membership for ratification. Under the Union's interpretation of its constitution -- upheld against legal challenge in Davey v. Fitzsimmons, 413 F. Supp. 670 (D.D.C. 1976) -- the master agreement and all supplements are voted on by the entire membership as a single package. The Union's usual practice, however, is to send each member a ballot package containing only the master agreement and the one supplemental agreement governing that member's region and job classification.

 Carothers v. Presser, 260 U.S. App. D.C. 277, 818 F.2d 926, 928 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

 The procedures governing ratification of the NATA are the focus of this action. In the usual case, the Union calls a meeting of representatives from affected locals to discuss collective bargaining agreements that have been negotiated with management. If the representatives vote to approve the agreement, they return to their locals and arrange meetings at which the proposed contract is explained and discussed. Some time after these local meetings are held, the Union conducts the official vote on the contract by mailing ballots, a copy of the proposed agreement and relevant supplements to affected members. The members vote by mailing the ballots back to the Union. See Bauman v. Presser, 117 L.R.R.M. 2393, 2394 (D.D.C. 1984), appeal dismissed as moot, 119 L.R.R.M. 2247 (D.C. Cir. 1985).

 Shortly after its existing carhaul contract expired on July 1, 1988, the Teamsters leadership negotiated a tentative agreement on a new contract that would extend until March 1991. In accordance with its usual procedures, the Union summoned representatives of affected locals to a meeting in Chicago on July 6, 1988; the representatives voted to approve the contract. In a departure from standard practice, however, members did not vote on the contract by mail. Rather, the Union sent each member a copy of the proposed collective bargaining agreement on July 8, 1988 and meetings were held approximately two weeks later, on July 23 through July 26, 1988. At these meetings, the new contract was explained to and discussed by members, who then cast their ballots in secret. The proposed agreement was rejected by 72% of the Union members who voted. See Affidavit of Walter J. Shea, submitted with Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Shea Aff.), at 2-3; Complaint para. 10.

 On September 26, 1988 -- after the weekend meetings were held but before the ballots were due to be mailed -- two members of TDU, William J. Carothers and Dennis A. Wade, filed this suit naming as defendants the Teamsters and its International President, William J. McCarthy. *fn1" The complaint contended that certain actions taken by defendants during ratification of the carhaul contract violated plaintiffs' rights to a meaningful vote and to free speech guaranteed under Title I of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and amounted to a breach of the duty of fair representation owed by the Union to its members. Three actions were cited in the complaint: (1) defendants' refusal to provide to plaintiffs the text of changes to the carhaul contract at the same time that this information was disclosed to union representatives on September 22, 1988; (2) the short period of time between the meeting of local representatives on September 22, 1988 and the scheduled mailing of ballots on September 28, 1988; and (3) attempts by Union officials to prevent members from passing resolutions expressing their views on the contract at the weekend meetings. In addition to a declaratory judgment, plaintiffs sought (1) injunctive relief enjoining defendants from mailing ballots until at least 10 days after they (plaintiffs) had received a copy of the proposed agreement; (2) an order compelling defendants to provide copies of all future carhaul contracts to plaintiffs once it had been given to local Union representatives; and (3) and injunctive relief that would preclude defendants from interfering with members seeking to pas resolutions expressing their views at local meetings and compel them to notify local unions that their members were free to do so. Complaint at 9-10.

 Simultaneously with the filing of their complaint, plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order. Acting in his capacity as motions judge, Judge Royce Lamberth held a hearing on September 27, 1988 and granted plaintiffs' motion for temporary relief in part, enjoining the Union from mailing the ballots until October 3, 1988. *fn2" After the ballots were mailed and returned to the Union, the contract was ratified by a vote of 9,034 to 4,498. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment then followed.

 II. LMRDA Claims

 Subsections 101(a) (1) and 102(a) (2) of Title I of LMRDA provide:

 
(a) (1) Equal rights. Every member of a labor organization shall have equal rights and privileges within such organization to nominate candidates, to vote in elections or referendums of the labor organization, to attend membership meetings, and to participate in the deliberations and voting upon the business of such meetings, subject to reasonable rules and regulations in such organization's constitution and bylaws.
 
(2) Freedom of speech and assembly. Every member of any labor organization shall have the right to meet and assemble freely with other members; and to express any views, arguments, or opinions; and to express at meetings of the labor organization his views, upon candidates in an election of the labor organization or upon any business properly before the meeting, subject to the organization's established and reasonable rules pertaining to the conduct of meetings: Provided, That nothing herein shall be construed to impair the right of a labor organization to adopt and enforce reasonable rules as to the responsibility of every member toward the organization as an institution and to his refraining from conduct that would interfere with its performance of its legal or contractual obligations.

 29 U.S.C. § 411(a) (1) & (2).

 The Supreme Court has noted that LMRDA was "the product of congressional concern with widespread abuses of power by union leadership." Finnegan v. Leu, 456 U.S. 431, 435, 72 L. Ed. 2d 239, 102 S. Ct. 1867 (1982). Using the Bill of Rights as its model, Congress enacted Title I of LMRDA "to guarantee every member equal voting rights, rights of free speech and assembly, and a right to sue." Sheet Metal Workers' International Association v. Lynn, 488 U.S. 347, 352, 57 U.S.L.W. 4098, 4100, 102 L. Ed. 2d 700, 109 S. Ct. 639 (1989) (quoting United Steelworkers of America v. Sadlowski, 457 U.S. 102, 109, 72 L. Ed. 2d 707, 102 S. Ct. 2339 (1982)). These provisions, as the Supreme Court recently recognized, are designed "to protect free speech and assembly rights because these are considered 'vital to the independence of the membership and the effective and fair operation of the union as the representative.'" Reed v. United Transportation Union, 488 U.S. 319, 325, 57 U.S.L.W. 4088, 4090, 102 L. Ed. 2d 665, 109 ...


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