agreed to provide complete copies of the National Signal Delivery Service Agreement to Teamsters members in response to recent litigation filed in this District. See Riley v. McCarthy, No. 88-3157.
The Union's refusal to provide plaintiffs with the changes negotiated to the carhaul contract at the same time that this information was given to local union representatives is more than sufficient to bring this case within the parameters of Bunz, where the court of appeals stated that "inadequate or misleading information about the matters to be voted upon" could constitute denial of a right to a meaningful vote. 567 F.2d at 1121. And it is consistent with language from numerous other cases that have also addressed the right of a union member to cast and informed and meaningful vote.
While plaintiffs' argument can stand on its own, it is also bolstered by the fact that similar information had been imparted to plaintiffs in the past and to other Teamster members with respect to other contracts.
Defendants admit that "this Circuit has recognized that the type of discriminatory conduct necessary to trigger a § 101(a) (1) violation need not be so blatant as to directly interfere with the mechanics of voting." Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment at 16-17. They seek to sidestep the force of Bunz by relying on two more recent decisions by the court of appeals. Citing Mallick v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 242 U.S. App. D.C. 93, 749 F.2d 771 (D.C. Cir. 1984), they claim that no violation of LMRDA occurs "merely because a member is not granted access to all of the information which he or she deems necessary to cast an informed vote." Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment at 17. And defendants maintain that Carothers v. Presser rejected the notion that "the democratic purpose of the LMRDA must be accomplished by judicially creating rights where none statutorily exist." Id. Defendants argue that no discrimination occurred because plaintiffs were provided the carhaul changes at the same time as every other affected member.
Although defendants accurately state the conclusions reached by the court of appeals in Mallick and Carothers, neither case alters the conclusion reached above. Mallick involved a member who sought access to his union's books and records in order to ascertain the expenditures it incurred in defending a separate lawsuit. The member claimed that the union violated his rights to an equal vote and free speech under LMRDA when it refused to release this material. The court of appeals disagreed. Noting the broad definition of the equal right to vote announced in Bunz, it pointed out that "Mallick's claim is outside even a very broad view of the statute." 749 F.2d at 786. And because Mallick had simply asserted that the information in the Union's books was "essential to informed participation in union politics," id., his free speech claim was similarly defective, since the Court noted that "that right does not guarantee access to all information a member might want to speak about." Id.
Here, by contrast, plaintiffs do not assert a vague and undefined need for access to documents simply in order to investigate a matter of concern to them. Rather, they sought information in order to be able to cast a meaningful vote on "a referendum of [their] labor organization," 29 U.S.C. § 411(a) (1), a referendum offered by the Union in order to approve a three-year contract that would affect the terms and conditions of their day-to-day employment. Unlike Mallick, plaintiffs have "ground[ed] [their] claims on a violation of a specific right enumerated in subsection 101(a)." 749 F.2d at 786.
Nor does Carothers suggest a different result. In that case, the plaintiffs (who are also the plaintiffs in this action) demanded access to the Teamsters' mailing list in order to communicate their expected opposition to the 1985 version of the carhaul contract. After the Union rejected their request, the plaintiffs asserted that their rights to an equal vote and to free speech had been transgressed. Concluding that "the right of access to the mailing list may be found" under subsections 101(a) (1) and 101(a) (2), Judge Gasch entered summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs. 636 F. Supp. 817, 827 (D.D.C. 1986). The court of appeals reversed. It noted, without comment, that Judge Gasch had interpreted prior decisions, including Bunz, to find a right to a meaningful vote within the right to an equal vote under subsection 101(a) (1). The error it identified, however, was the trial court's failure "to consider whether the evidence in the record supported a finding that the Union's denial of access had somehow deprived the [plaintiffs] of a 'meaningful' vote." 818 F.2d at 932. Similarly, while the court of appeals approved of Judge Gasch's construction of section 101(a) (2), id. n.13, he was faulted for not making "a particularized finding that the Union's denial of access under the circumstances of this case deprived the [plaintiffs] of an opportunity to 'communicate effectively' with the Union membership." 818 F.2d at 932. These failures to identify the specific harms suffered by the plaintiffs led the district court, in effect, to "create an absolute right of access to a mailing list under section 101(a) in favor of any dissident Union member who expresses an interest in commenting on a contract submitted to the membership for ratification." 818 F.2d at 933.
While the court in Carothers therefore held that a violation of Title I was not possible without a particularized finding that the challenged conduct diminished the member's rights in some fashion, it also made clear that entry of such a finding would enable a court to fashion a precise remedy appropriate to the violation.
In the instant case, this Court can make the particularized finding required by Carothers without hesitation. As noted above, when the meeting of Union local representatives approved the carhaul contract on September 22, 1988, plaintiffs asked for but were not given the text of the agreement or its supplements by the Union.
Local meetings were held just two days later, on September 24 and 25, 1988. Plaintiffs have explained that at these meetings "members develop their basic impression of the contract and begin to make up their minds." Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, Affidavit of William J. Carothers, para. 8.
Because of the size of the carhaul agreement and its supplements, members depend on Union officers who favor the contract, and those like plaintiffs who may oppose it, to examine the negotiated changes and make a recommendation about ratification. First Carothers Aff. para. 7. Plaintiffs have found that, when Union representatives discuss a particular provision of the contract, it is important to be able to distribute a written leaflet to members containing the plaintiffs' view of the proposal. Id. para. 8. With so little time between the approval of the contract and the explanatory meetings, and without a copy of the changes negotiated by the Union, however, plaintiffs were forced to distribute a leaflet that contained incomplete information gathered from second-hand sources. Id. paras. 9, 16. Thus, because "'the lines of communication among the membership [were not] as unfettered as reason can make them,'" Bunz, 567 F.2d at 1121 n.22 (quoting Blanchard, 388 F. Supp. at 216), and because defendants were willing to provide contract changes to their local representatives and to other union members but not to plaintiffs, the Court finds that plaintiffs were deprived of their right to a meaningful vote under subsection 101(a) (1).
A finding that the right to an equal vote has been denied does not, however, automatically establish entitlement to relief under Title I of LMRDA. Subsection 101(a) (1) contains a proviso that subjects the rights guaranteed to "reasonable rules and regulations in [the union's] constitution and by-laws." See, e.g., Sadlowski, 457 U.S. at 115-19; American Postal Workers, 665 F.2d at 1102-05. Defendants assert that their decision to withhold information from plaintiffs is justified by their "legitimate interest in ensuring that members attend union meetings to discuss contract proposals to receive accurate information before they vote." Motion at 18-19. To prove their point, they rely on the affidavit of Walter Shea, a vice-president of the Union and a co-chairman of the committee that negotiated the carhaul contract, who described why union representatives were not allowed to provide members with copies of the contract before the explanatory meetings:
The reason for this was that experience has demonstrated that a larger number of members attend a membership meeting when they do not have all of the information about a collective bargaining agreement in advance. When they have the information prior to the meeting, many members do not attend the meeting at which the contract is to be explained and discussed.