Thursday, May 24, 2012

Public Citizen and AUD defend the right of union member to criticize union president and remain anonymous

A union member who created a parody Facebook page to criticize the union's president has the right to remain anonymous, Public Citizen told a California Court today.

Representing John Doe defendant in the lawsuit, Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy today filed a motion in the Superior Court of Sacramento, California to quash a subpoena served on Facebook that seeks information leading to the identity of the page creator. The parody page poked fun at the union head for having "inherited" his father's lucrative leadership post.

Newton B. Jones, president of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers based in Kansas City, Kansas, has generated substantial controversy both within the union and in public forums over several of his relatives being on the union's payroll. Jones, who followed in his fathers footsteps as union leader, is now one of the highest paid union presidents in the country even though the boilermakers are a relatively small union

The Facebook page named "Lord Newton B. Jones, Monarch" mocked Jones' wealth and called his family influence a dynasty. "Jones was not content with suppressing the page, which he quickly did as part of his legal offensive," said Levy. "He wants revenge and used his union's top lawyer to file suit on his behalf." Jones' filed WHEN, claims damages for defamation and impersonation. But the allegations do not meet the threshold necessary to deny a critic his First Amendment Right to anonymity, Levy told the court.

In addition, Jones lives in North Carolina, but he sued in a Kansas state court so that he could use the union's attorneys to fight on his personal behalf, Levy said. Also, the filing of the lawsuit itself may violate the anonymous union member's rights, which are federally protected under the 1959 Landrum Griffin Act.

(Paul Alan Levy is a Board Member of the Association for Union Democracy)

The following is reprinted from Union Democracy Review No 79, December 1990 

Challenging IBEW election rules

Three members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers filed suit in District of Columbia federal court on August 30 asking the judge to enjoin enforcement of international union election rules which, they charge, violate the free speech provisions of the Labor Management REporting and Disclosure Act by drastically limiting the right to run for local union office and rendering supporters of insurgent candidates vulnerable to discrimination and retaliation.

Back in 1982, the IBEW amended its constitution and adopted rules which forbid candidates for local union office from accepting campaign contributions from anyone not a member of that local. The ban closes off contributions no only from those who are not members of the IBEW but even from members of other locals and from IBEW retirees. The rules also impose strict reporting requirements: Any candidate who spends more than $100 must file regular reports and list the name of every who donates more than $10. Unpaid volunteers are permitted to donate personal services, but their names and their employers must be reported. These mandatory disclosure documents are available for inspection by rival candidates for the same office, in effect making them public documents.

In 1988, running for IBEW Local 11 executive board on the TEAM ticket, an opposition slate, Louis Izykowski spent $142.50 to mail campaign literature. When he failed to file reports and list his contributors, he was brought up on charges in the union. In August 1989, he was found guilty and barred from running in local union electrons until he files the required reports.

These events led to the suit by the three electricians: Izykowski, himself; Forrest Darby, member of Local 1547; and Rhys Jones, a retired member of Local 11. They are represented by Paul R. Q. Wolfson, Paul Alan Levy, and Alan B. Morrison, all of the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

Some background:
In 1978, The United Steel Workers amended its constitution to prohibit candidates for international union office from accepting contributions from anyone not a member of the international union. Onerous reporting requirements were prescribed.

The union officialdom, which proposed the rules, had been disquieted by a strong campaign for control of the international by an opposition slate headed by Ed Sadlowski, insurgent candidate for president. Not satisfied with staving off the challenge, the international officialdom took steps to discourage any repetition. For one thing is sued AUD.

AUD had administered a Steel Workers Election Project to try to assure a fair count. The international sued AUD and several supporting foundations in an effort to induce the federal courts to enjoin them from doing it again. The suit failed at every level up through the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the Steel officials were successful in imposing the new election rules. A federal district court and an appeals court declared the rules void under the LMRDA; but, by a narrow 5 to 4 ratio, the U.S. SupremeCourt upheld the rules, which are now in effect.

With the Steel Workers paving the way, a few other unions followed suit with their own restrictive rules; the IBEW, the Teamsters, the Service Employees. But the rules are not identical. The IBEW complainants are convinced that their union's rules, unlike the Steelworkers; are illegal because they are far more dangerous to union democracy.

Background IBEW rules:
As in Steel, the IBEW officialdom seeks shelter from the uncertainties of democracy. Up to 1981, there was no problem; anyone who criticized the officials could be easily fined, suspended, or expelled; and so died insurgency. But in that year, after fed era suit by Dan Boswell, who had been suspended and fined in the usual fashion, a federal court consent decree compelled the international to remove from the IBEW constitution a series of illegal provisions which their free speech rights protected by federal law. In the course of the suit, it was revealed that one one ten-year period, there had been more than 700 cases of such repression. An analysis in Union Democracy Review estimated that thousands of individual members had been victimized under these provisions. With the removal of the offending clauses, there was a noticeable revival of democracy in IBEW locals.

In 1982, Charles Delgado, business manager of Local 527 in Galveston, Texas, mounted an effective insurgent campaign for international president, a race which son him wide sympathy but, in the non-secret, open balloting at the convention, only a modest number of open votes. The extent of his support was best indicated when he got the endorsement of more than 170 locals for a referendum to amend the IBEW constitution to provide a secret ballot vote for president at conventions. But the international board simply refused to submit the proposal to a vote. These unusual stirrings of democracy explain why, once the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Steel rules, the IBEW hastened to adopt its own version. However, while the original and the intent of the Steel and the IBEW rules have something in common, the court will have to consider the decisive differences which make the iBEW rules far more deadly in their effect on the union's democracy.

(For one thing, the Steel rules apply only to international union elections. The IBEW rules given both local and international elections. The Izykowski-Darby-Jones suit, however, challenges only the provisions which apply to local elections.)

The Steel rules have been characterized as "outsider" rules because they bar contributions from nonmembers of the union. But the IBEW rules are more properly "insider" rules, because they prohibit members of the IBEW locals from donating to members of other locals. Like the Steel rules, the IBEW rules require the disclosure of the names of unionists who make campaign contributions But these two unions live in two totally different worlds. The IBEW has a long documented history of suppressing individual members' rights. Moreover it functions in construction, an industry where the blacklisting of dissidents is a dominating fact of life. The union's own legal counsel concedes that "mismanagement" of hiring halls is common. In such a union in such an industry, it takes great courage -- it often means job-suicide -- for a contraction worker openly to identify with the critics of the officials, the very officials who control their jobs. Under these conditions, the courts will have to consider whether here, unlike in Steel, union democracy can survive if dissidents are forced to expose themselves to vindictive retaliation.

For more information visit the following links:

Consumer Law and Policy Blog

Internet Free Speech

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Goodbye, Frank Schonfeld

Frank Schonfeld, an eminent spokesman and leader in the battle for union democracy, died in November at the age of 95. A memorial gathering is planned for Sunday, February 26, 2012, at 2:00 p.m., to be held at Vladeck Hall, 74 Van Cortlandt Park South (corner Hillman Avenue), Bronx, NY 10463. (Nearest subway stops are: IRT 4 (Woodlawn) to Mosholu Pkwy (and Jerome Ave); IND D (205th St) to Bedford Park Blvd (and Grand Concourse); IRT 1 (242nd St) to 238th St (and Broadway))

Among the many things Frank and I shared was a birthday. We were both born on July 9, except that I was one year older than him. That's my way of saying that at 96 years of age and biologically degraded, I find it hard to get around. I'm sorry I can't be with you, but I must at least WRITE something about my good old friend Frank Schonfeld.

I first met Frank in 1961. He was a house-painter and member of the big Painters District Council 9 in New York. He had decided to run for the top job of DC 9 secretary-treasurer as part of a campaign to free the union from control by the Lucchese crime family. As the publisher of a little newsletter, Union Democracy in Action, which aimed to tell the story of union reformers like him, my first reaction was nonetheless that he had illusions of grandeur. With just himself and a half-dozen active supporters in a union of maybe 12,000 members, he expected to overcome a bunch of crooks backed by organized crime!

But he turned out to be genuine, and he turned out to be right. That year marked the beginning of 50 years of close collaboration and friendship between Frank and me.

When he first ran for top office in 1961, he did surprisingly well. In a union where no one was watching the ballot count, he was credited with one-third of the votes. In some locals, where he was able to campaign vigorously, he actually won a majority. He persevered, built a caucus of maybe a dozen activists, ran and did a little better in 1964.

Early in 1966, came a tense and dangerous moment. Dow Wilson, a Painters reform leader in California, with whom Frank had been coordinating efforts, was murdered and a month later Lloyd Green, a Wilson colleague, was shot to death. I remember telephoning Frank on the day before he was to fly to California for their memorial. In the background, his daughter Sari, fearful of his safety was crying and begging him not to go. But Frank would not be dissuaded.

In 1967 at last there was an honest count. In an election ordered by a Federal judge and supervised by a court appointee, Frank defeated Martin Rarback who had held the top job for twenty years. (Rarback later went to jail on corruption charges.) For Frank it was a spectacular victory, and yet, it opened up what was probably the most physically and emotionally stressful six years of his life, with dawn to dusk hours of work.

While he had been elected by direct vote of the membership to the top district position, most of the old-line business agents still controlled the locals and dominated the council of delegates. They remained in collusion with the bosses and had the support of the international union officials to undermine his authority. Those same business agents supported raids by a corrupted Teamster local against Painters DC 9. He faced a raid from the Carpenters union. He faced hostility from the New York City Housing Authority. I knew about all that because I worked with Frank in all those nerve-wracking years.

By sheer determination and working those interminable hours, Frank held on for six years. But he did more than just hold on. He led a general strike of New York painters that effectively raised wages 93% and increased pensions by 44%. He took the pension plan out of the hands of a suspect administration and put it under professional control. He warded off two raids by the Teamsters and a long raid attempt by the Carpenters. He democratized the election system. When he ran for reelection in 1970, he faced a concerted drive by the business agents, the international, the Teamsters, and the agents of the Lucchese family to defeat him. By a near miracle he beat them off to win reelection.

But after a second three year term, the balance of power had shifted. During Frank's six years in office, the business agents, with the aid of cooperating bosses, succeeded in bringing in a whole new army of employees beholden to them for jobs. Open Schonfeld supporters often found it difficult to get work. In 1973, Jimmy Bishop, chosen as candidate by organized crime, edged out Frank for secretary-treasurer. How do we know Bishop was the mob's candidate? A few years later he was forced to resign and was then murdered; a victim of a falling out among racketeers.

Frank went back to work as a house-painter. He could earn good money and retire on a generous pension because he now could enjoy everything he himself had helped win for painters. Not only painters, but the whole labor movement has benefited from Frank's career as a courageous union reformer. While still an insurgent in 1962, Frank supported the cause of Solomon Salzhandler, an old-time painter and treasurer of DC 9 Local 442 who had been fined and suspended for accusing his business agent, who had stolen money, of stealing money. Frank helped recruit a young attorney, Burton Hall to represent Salzhandler in Federal Court. They won the famous case of Salzhandler v. Caputo, the landmark case which established a firm basis in federal law for the rights of free speech in unions.

I must mention one part of Frank's life because he would talk about it over and over, in public meetings and in private. His life was self-fulfilling, but it was all-consuming and always on the margin. He could survive and do great things only because he had the unwavering moral and practical support from his wonderful wife, Jean. If he could be here today, he would make it an important part of what he had to say.

Once Frank was relieved of the burdens of union leadership, and then finally in retirement, his life took a new and quite different turn. Our long collaboration in the cause of union democracy led to a warm and continuing friendship. I introduced him to the great outdoors of Mother Nature. Together we co-owned some 40 acres of abandoned farmland and a pond in Bradford New York, where we bushwhacked through the woods and worked to rescue a crumbling hundred-year-old farmhouse. Frank was fascinated by the grass, the flowers, the trees, the bushes and the wetlands. Like one great poet, he learned "To see a World in a grain of sand and a Heaven in a wild flower."

Others can speak of what he did and what he accomplished in later years. I must end with this: Goodbye, my old friend Frank. We had great times together.