Union Democracy Review
January, 1999
no. 122

published by the Association for Union Democracy

Connecticut Laborers District Council

In November, Bridgeport Local 665 won a suit in federal court against the Connecticut Laborers District Council which takes back some of the power which members had lost under the council structure. The settlement is a triumph over the kind of abuse which is widespread in the construction trades.

Connecticut laborers have won back control over the imposition of dues increases.

The court-ordered settlement establishes the principle that no work dues can be increased without a referendum vote of the entire membership. It also compels the council to refund the dues it collects back to the locals in strict proportion to the hours worked by their memberships.

As in other trades, Connecticut Laborers locals were forced into a council which assumed control over bargaining and arrogated the power to raise dues without vote of the membership. The council's previous president went to jail on federal corruption charges. His former colleagues hold power in the council and in some of the locals.

[As in most district councils, officers are elected by delegates. In this case, local officers are council delegates.]

They not only raised dues on their own authority but rewarded themselves and their friends by distributing the money disproportionately to favored locals, especially where they, themselves, held office.

By decision of the court, Connecticut laborers have broken through the system and regained control over dues. Ron Nobili, business manager of Local 665, was represented by attorney Leon Rosenblatt, an AUD Advisor.

After a hard-fought court suit, the judge ordered that the local's legal fees be reimbursed by the council. In an amicus brief in support of Local 665, AUD President Judith Schneider explained to the court the wider implications of the suit. She wrote:

"Mergers, consolidations, and other structural arrangements give officials an opportunity to avoid possible consequences of outright defiance of the LMRDA by making an end run around it....The district council structure as alleged by the plaintiffs is egregious....[It] has abrogated to itself total control over every aspect of the dues process...in violation of unambiguous LMRDA requirements for membership involvement and approval....It provides tremendous opportunities for rewarding political allies at the expense of political opponents. Thus, it has tremendous appeal in many sectors of the labor movement and particularly in the building trades."

Pending in the House is the Fawell bill which would create new rights for members in district councils. Meanwhile, in winning new rights for themselves, Connecticut laborers may encourage other construction workers to do the same.

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