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Donovan v. Csea Local Union 1000

May 1, 1985


Appeal by the United States Secretary of Labor from an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Miner, J.) that held that a member of the Civil Service Employees Association, Local Union 1000 of New York, who sought to be a candidate for union office, had exhausted her union remedies and also held that the CSEA's nominating procedures when considered as a whole did not violate the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. The CSEA appeals from the district court's holding that the member had exhausted her administrative remedies, and the Secretary of Labor appeals from the district court's determination that the procedures when considered as a whole were reasonable. Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Lumbard, Cardamone and Pierce, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cardamone

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

This action, instituted by the Secretary of Labor under the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, challenges the 1982 election of statewide officers of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA or Union) in New York based upon a complaint made by a union member. At the heart of the Landrum-Griffin Act is the premise that unions should conduct their internal affairs through democratic processes. Some believe that like Don Quixote, Congress was attempting the near impossible task of repealing the "iron law of oligarchy" inherent in large-scale one-party organizations. Thus, it falls upon courts construing the Act to effectuate its premise in the face of the strong tendency toward obligarchic control that is an inevitable result of a single-party structure. Contrary to the court below, we conclude that the nominating procedure at issue violates the Act because it gives an unfair advantage to incumbents and other members of the union hierarchy. Accordingly, we reverse.

As a result of Helen Carter's complaint, the instant action was brought by the Secretary of Labor under Title IV of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, 29 U.S.C. §§ 481-483 (1982) (LMRDA or Act). The Secretary sought an order from the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Miner, J.) declaring that the CSEA had violated § 40l(b) of the Act by failing to conduct an election for its statewide offices by secret ballot. 29 U.S.C. § 481(b). He also sought an order declaring that the CSEA had violated § 401(e) of the Act by: (1) imposing unreasonable candidacy requirements; (2) imposing candidacy requirements in a non-uniform manner; (3) denying members in good standing a reasonable opportunity to nominate candidates; and (4) denying members in good standing the right to be a candidate. 29 U.S.C. § 481(e). The Secretary sought a new election conducted under his supervision. The CSEA denied these allegations and asserted as an affirmative defense that the district court lacked jurisdiction because Carter had failed to exhaust her internal union administrative remedies as required by § 402(a). 29 U.S.C. § 482(a).

I. CSEA's 1982 Election

A. Nominating Procedures

Representing employees of the State of New York and its various political subdivisions, the CSEA has almost 200,000 members. The Union is divided into 6 regions, 313 locals, and 933 units. Most of its locals have fewer than 500 members. Nominations for election to its statewide offices of President. Executive Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer are governed by article IV, section 5(b) of its Constitution and Bylaws, which provides for a statewide nominating committee made up of three members from each of the six regions. Members of the committee are selected by the executive board of each CSEA region, and not by the rank and file. The committee is required to select at least two candidates for each statewide office from among those members in good standing who have timely submitted a "Request to Be a Candidate: form. A potential candidate must receive a plurality vote of the committee to be placed on the ballot. In 1982 the constitution provided that incumbent officers who wanted to be candidates were automatically placed on the ballot.

Neither the constitution nor any other document provides guidelines for committee members to use in selecting candidates. The record indicates that committee members have based their decisions to vote for or against particular candidates on such attributes as education, expertise, experience, and involvement in CSEA activities. The committee members have derived this information from the submitted forms and their personal knowledge of the candidates. A CSEA member seeking statewide office who is rejected by the committee may still have his or her name placed on the ballot if the member is able to obtain the signatures of two percent of the membership on a petition within six weeks of being turned down by the committee. The signature requirement was 3,800 based on 1982 membership.

All four incumbents chose to be placed on the ballot for the 1982 election. Seven members applied to be candidates. The committee nominated four and rejected three, including Carter who was seeking to be Secretary. In total, the Committee nominated three individuals for President, two for Executive Vice-President, two for Treasurer, and only one, the incumbent, for Secretary. Of the four incumbents all but the Treasurer were re-elected. Only one of the three members who were rejected successfully obtained the signatures needed to win a spot on the ballot. The record does not reveal whether either of the other two attempted to obtain signatures

. B. Helen Carter's Protests

The only provision in the CSEA Constitution and Bylaws concerning election protests is in article III, section 2 and states that a member must file a protest with the Executive Director of the CSEA by certified mail within ten days of the official announcement of the election results. Prior to the election Helen Carter had protested to the CSEA Board of Directors and to the statewide election procedures committee regarding the nominating committee's selection of candidates. She was informed that her protest was untimely -- because the Union's constitution did not provide for pre-election protests -- and that a response by the CSEA to her protest would be inappropriate because she had instituted a federal action. (That action has been indefinitely stayed by the Eastern District.)

The CSEA's mail ballot election was conducted on June 15, 1982 and the results of the election were telegrammed to the candidates that same day. The official results were published in the June 18th edition of the CSEA newspaper. Carter sent a letter making numerous protests about the election to the Executive Director. On June 25, the last day of the ten-day period, she sent a telegram -- orally communicated to the Union that same day -- in which she amended her protest to allege that the nominating procedure was "arbitrary and discriminatory" in violation of the LMRDA. The Union received a written confirmation of the amended election protest on June 28, the next business day. The statewide election procedures committee informed Carter that her protests were untimely because ...

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