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Federal Court Orders Union to Remove Anti-Democratic Rule


On March 6th, U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson ruled that Section 199 of the constitution of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (UA) violated members rights under federal law. Section 199 of the UA constitution states, "Any member of the United Association found guilty of sending out circular letters of falsehood and misrepresentation shall be expelled, and the Local Union that permits such action shall also be expelled."


The Judge's order requires the UA to "excise Section 199 from all future printings or publishings of the [UA] Constitution" and publish the complete text of the judge's memorandum and order in the union's publication, the UA Journal, "within the next 60 days," under the title "Court Invalidates Section 199as Unlawful Restraint on Members' Free Speech Rights."


In the memorandum, Judge Robertson writes, "Section 199 is of 'no force or effect' because it is inconsistent with union members' rights 'to express any views, arguments, or opinions'…" agreeing with the plaintiffs that the mere existence of the provision has "a chilling effect." Title One of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) protects union members' right to free speech in union affairs, and is enforced by civil suit.


"This is a tremendous victory," said Chuck Callihan, the California pipefitter, who along with Wilbur Thomas of Austin, Texas, was plaintiff to the lawsuit. "It means the individual has a right to get up and state his opinion at meetings or print a newsletter without fear of being expelled from the union." Callihan had been charged by officers of his local under Section 199 in retaliation for publishing  a rank-and-file newsletter called "Members for Union Democracy."


Herman Benson, founder of the Association for Union Democracy (AUD), described the victory as " an unqualified vindication of the right of members to free speech" that will "be a spur to union democracy not only for pipefitters and plumbers but for members of other construction unions. What's necessary now is that others become aware of this victory."


AUD board member Arthur Fox represented the UA members. Attorneys for the UA had argued that Section 199 was not a threat to free speech because it was rarely used. The judge rejected this argument. Just days after his decision, a UA member in Pennsylvania was charged for "circulating a letter of falsehood" under the same Section 199 of the UA constitution.


See the AUD website for links to websites of UA members.


For more information, please contact Matt Noyes at the Association for Union Democracy

500 State Street Brooklyn NY 11217



"Union Democracy--For a Strong Labor Movement"

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