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LOCAL 323 v. INTERNATIONAL UNION OF ELECTRONIC

July 12, 2001

LOCAL 323, SAM AUGELLO, PRESIDENT OF LOCAL 323, BERNARD SCOPPO, SHOP CHAIRMAN OF LOCAL 323, RICHARD ROTH, TREASURER OF LOCAL 323, TONI FELTON, SECRETARY OF LOCAL 323, KEN WILSON, EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER OF LOCAL 323, JERRY HOCHREITER, EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER OF LOCAL 323, CLIFFORD BALL, EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER OF LOCAL 323, JOHN COOLEY, EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER OF LOCAL 323, FRED CICCOLINE, EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER OF LOCAL 323, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
INTERNATIONAL UNION OF ELECTRONIC, ELECTRICAL, SALARIED, MACHINE AND FURNITURE WORKERS, AFL — CIO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Telesca, District Judge.

    DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Local 323, and various Officers and Board Members of Local 323 bring this action against defendant International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers, AFL — CIO, ("IUE"), pursuant to the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 ("LMRA") and the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), claiming that the defendant has unlawfully denied Local 323 the right to disaffiliate from the IUE. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the defendant unlawfully amended its constitution to prevent local unions from freely disaffiliating from the IUE, and violated the IUE constitution by denying Local 323's application to disaffiliate from the IUE. Plaintiffs further allege that because the amended constitution materially changed the relationship between the IUE and Local 323, plaintiffs may rescind its relationship with the IUE. Plaintiffs seek a declaration from this court enforcing the decision of Local 323 to disaffiliate from the IUE, declaring that all assets of Local 323 shall remain the property of Local 323, permanently restraining the IUE from interfering with Local 323, and awarding damages to Local 323 equal to the amount of dues paid to the IUE after September 27, 1999 together with attorneys fees and costs.

Defendant denies plaintiffs' allegations, and moves to dismiss the Complaint on grounds that: (1) plaintiffs failed to exhaust their remedies within the Union, and thus are barred from filing suit in federal court; (2) the Complaint fails to state a claim for breach of the union's constitution because plaintiffs have failed to allege facts from which a trier of fact could conclude that defendant acted in bad faith in denying plaintiffs' application for disaffiliation; (3) defendant properly amended its constitution, and therefore plaintiffs may not unilaterally rescind its relationship with the IUE; (4) plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of laches; and (5) plaintiffs lack standing to raise certain claims alleged in the Complaint.

For the reasons set forth below, I find that plaintiffs were required to first exhaust their claims pursuant to the IUE appeal process, and that defendant has established-on the face of the Complaint — that the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their intra-union remedies. Because defendants have established the merits of their affirmative defense based on plaintiffs' failure to exhaust, I grant defendant's motion to dismiss, and dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Local 323 is a local union consisting of about 155 members, all of whom are employed by Alstom Signaling. Local 323 has been affiliated with the defendant IUE since March 21, 1951, when it was organized as a subordinate labor organization of the IUE. The IUE was founded in 1949, at which time it adopted the constitution that, as amended, has governed the relationship between the IUE and Local 323.

In April 1999, the IUE proposed an amendment to its constitution to change the way a local union could disaffiliate from the IUE. Under the proposed amendment, either the Executive Board of the IUE or the International Convention would have to approve any application for disaffiliation by a local union. Local member-unions of the IUE approved the proposed amendment in May, 1999.

Four months later, in September 1999, Local 323 union member John Vogt presented a proposal to the Local Executive Board urging that the local union disaffiliate from the IUE. The proposal was accompanied by a petition signed by more than 94 of the local union members who supported disaffiliating from the IUE. The proposal was eventually adopted by a 40 to 2 vote of the general membership.

On October 18, 1999, Local 323 petitioned the IUE to disaffiliate. While Local 323 reserved what it believed was its right to unilaterally disaffiliate, it attempted to follow the newly amended IUE constitution by seeking permission from the IUE Executive Board to disaffiliate. Local 323 continued, and continues to meet all of its dues obligations to the IUE despite filing its application to disaffiliate.

On November 17, 1999, the Executive Board of the IUE voted to conduct an investigation concerning the request to disaffiliate, and appointed two officers to chair a Committee charged with making such an inquiry. Local 323 objected to the nature of the inquiry on grounds that the Committee was not operating under any set of guidelines, and no criteria had been established for making the determination as to whether or not Local 323's application should be granted. Local 323 also contends that during the investigation period, the IUE engaged in a counter-campaign to undermine the disaffiliation attempt. The Committee held a hearing on March 22, 2000, at which members of Local 323 and other local IUE-affiliated unions were allowed to express their opinions as to the proposed disaffiliation. Members who were unable to attend the hearing were allowed to submit written statements.

On April 24, 2000, IUE President Edward Fire ("Fire") informed the members of Local 323 that the Committee had recommended that the Local not be allowed to disaffiliate, and that the Executive Board had voted unanimously against disaffiliation. Fire cited the following reasons for denying Local 323's application: (1) disaffiliation would reduce the bargaining strength of the Local; (2) the complaints by local union members against the IUE were vague and unsubstantiated; (3) local union members would not have access to IUE sponsored strike benefits including medical protection; (4) retired union-members' benefits could be placed in jeopardy; (5) disaffiliation would have a negative impact on other IUE-affiliated unions in the Rochester area; (6) local members would lose their right to utilize the IUE grievance system; and (7) the factors which had existed in prior circumstances in which the IUE allowed member unions to disaffiliate were not present in the current situation. On April 25, 2000, Fire, in a letter to Local 323 President Sam Augello, ("Augello"), informed Augello of his decision, and further advised Augello that Local 323 may appeal that decision to the International Convention, scheduled to commence on September 21, 2000.

Rather than appeal the Executive Board's decision to the International Convention, Local 323 filed the instant ...


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