Union Dues


Nov. 11, 1998

Laborers Local Settles Lawsuit Against Connecticut District Council

The Connecticut District Council of the Laborers' International Union and Local Union 665 in Bridgeport have settled the local's lawsuit charging the council with illegally collecting and increasing the dues of rank-and-file members throughout the state (Laborers' Local Union 665 v. Connecticut Laborers' District Council. D. Conn., No 395CV02372(AVC), settlement reached 11/2/98 )

The suit by Local 665, its business manager Ronald B. Nobili, and six local members alleged that the council unilaterally raised the 'working dues" of approximately 3,200 members without seeking their approval, in violation of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. It also alleged that the funds were used lo pay excessive salaries and personal expenses of council members and were distributed to locals in a way that served the council's political interests, rather than the interests of the membership

The district council is run by the business managers of 10 local affiliates m the state. It serves as the collective bargaining representative for locals and handles the day-to-day policing of agreements, among other things

Vote on Dues Hike Required. In exchange for withdrawal of the suit, the settlement requires the council to discontinue the practice, which dates back to 1977, of raising the "working dues" of members without their direct authorization. Working dues are deducted from members' paychecks by their employers, who forward the money to the district council. The agreement stipulates that any future increase must be put to a secret ballot vote of the members of each affiliated focal.

The settlement also requires the council to distribute funds to the locals each month on a basis proportionate to each local's share of working dues. District officials agreed in the settlement not to retaliate against the plaintiffs or the local. The officials also agreed to pay $100,000 in attorneys fees and costs incurred by the local The council does not admit to any wrongdoing under the settlement.

Members of Local 665 alleged in their suit that the illegal practices began during the tenure of former district council business manager Dominick Lopreato, who is currently servmg a four-year sentence in federal prison for accepting kickbacks, Nobili-said. The practices continued, according to the suit, under the current district council business manager, Charles LeConche, who is also business manager of Hartford Local Union 230. LeConche could not be reached for comment on the settlement.

Illegal Dues Hikes Alleged. In their complaint, Local 665 members maintained that the council repeatedly raised members' dues by 'fiat' in violation of the LMRDA. Under the act, "local labor organizations are required to obtain membership approval by a secret ballot vote. Non-local entities of a union are required to submit the question to a regular or special convention or to a secret ballot vote in a referendum.

According to the suit, the district council functions as a local labor organization and therefore was obligated to submit the question of a dues increase to the membership Instead, district council business managers met behind closed doors to decide the rate of dues and its allocation, the suit alleged Their decisions then would be submitted for approval to the "membership'' of the district council, which consists of local union officers. Thus, the suit said, the decision to impose a dues increase was made "entirely by union officials, acting in their capacities as members of the defendant."

"This is a big step forward for those of us who believe unions should be run by the members and for the members." RONALD B. NOBILI, LOCAL 665 BUSINESS MANAGER

Working dues of 10 cents an hour were first imposed by the council in 1977, according to the complaint The most recent increase went into effect in 1992 when dues were raised from 33 cents per hour to 43 cents per hour. The 1992 dues increase, which applied to all members in the state, generated approximately $1 8 million in revenue annually, according to the suit.

"Big Step Forward." This is a big step forward for those of us who believe unions should be run by the members and for the members,'' Nobili said.

He said the settlement prohibits the district from subsidizing small, non-self-supporting locals at the expense of' larger locals that have greater needs. Many small, "bought"" locals. he said, exist primarily to serve the political interests of top union officials who rely on local leaders for political support.

Most of the money distributed to locals, Nobili said, is spent for salaries, benefits. and expenses of top local officers, who are members of the district council. Without the subsidies, he said, a number of local affiliates would not be able to cover the salaries of local officers He said he would not be surprised if several small locals were forced to merge into larger locals as a result of the settlement.

Nobili said the local decided to settle because the agreement gives them "95 percent of what we were looking for" and because the plaintiffs felt that a lengthy, public trial "would have gotten ugly and "would not have been good for the union or the labor movement generally "

Nobili remarked that the plaintiffs did not seek damages against the defendants because a large judgment against the district and its officers could cripple the union permanently

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