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Troman v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 6, 2017



          J. PAUL OETKEN, United States District Judge

         This case concerns the efforts of union officers elected to the Executive Committee of the Civil Service Technical Guild, also known as Local 375 (“Local 375”) to enjoin its parent union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (“AFSCME”), and its International President Lee Saunders (“Saunders”) from enforcing an administratorship imposed on August 29, 2016. On October 13, 2016, this Court denied Plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, holding that they had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits and had not properly exhausted their intra-union remedies. Troman v. Am. Fed'n of State, Cty. & Mun. Emps., No. 16 Civ. 6948, 2016 WL 5940924 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 13, 2016).

         On October 24, 2016, Plaintiffs amended their complaint to reflect the October 4, 2016, decision of AFSCME's Administratorship Hearing Board upholding the imposition of the administratorship, and to add several causes of action under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (“LMRDA”). (Dkt. No. 50.) On November 16, 2016, AFSCME moved for summary judgment on all claims, contending that it complied with its international constitution, that the LMRDA does not apply to Plaintiffs' claims, and that Plaintiffs failed to properly exhaust their intra-union remedies. (Dkt. No. 58.) For the reasons that follow, AFSCME's motion is granted.[1]

         I. Background

         The following material facts are uncontested unless otherwise noted.

         AFSCME is a national labor organization that represents more than 1.6 million members. (Dkt. No. 63 ¶ 1.) Lee Saunders is the International President of AFSCME, and has held this position since 2012. (Id. ¶ 2.) Local 375 is an affiliated local union chartered by AFSCME that represents over 7, 000 skilled technical employees who work for New York City, its various agencies, and other municipal entities. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) Aside from members of its own staff, Local 375 represents exclusively public employees. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         AFSCME and its affiliates are governed by a written constitution that sets forth the substantive and procedural rights and obligations that apply to the labor organizations under AFSCME's umbrella and their members. (Id. ¶ 3.) Numerous provisions of this constitution are relevant to the present dispute.

         The AFSCME Constitution opens with a “bill of rights for union members.” (Dkt. No. 21-5.) As relevant here, this “bill of rights” guarantees members “the right to fair and democratic elections, at all levels of the union, ” which includes “equal opportunity for competing candidates, and proper election procedures which shall be constitutionally specified.” (Id. at 8.) It also guarantees members “the right to full participation, through discussion and vote, in the decisionmaking processes of the union, and to pertinent information needed for the exercise of this right.” (Id. at 9.)

         The AFSCME Constitution also provides the International President with the authority to impose an administratorship on a subordinate body in specifically enumerated circumstances. Local 375 is considered to be a “subordinate body” for the purposes of this dispute, pursuant to Article IX, Section 1 (Dkt. No. 21-3 at 69-70), and Article XII, Section 4 of the AFSCME Constitution (Dkt. No. 21-4 at 131). The International President's authority is provided by Article IX, Section 37, which, as relevant here, empowers him to place a subordinate body under administratorship pending notice and hearing if he finds that such body “is acting in violation of this Constitution or of any lawful order of the Convention, the International Executive Board, or the International President, so that in the opinion of the International President an emergency situation exists.” (Dkt. No. 21-3 at 103.)

         Article IX, Sections 39 through 42 provide for an internal procedure that commences “immediately” upon the International President's taking of any action under Article IX, Section 37. (Id. at 104.) Section 39 requires the Chairperson of AFSCME's Judicial Panel to appoint an Administratorship Hearing Board of no more than three members from among the members of the Panel, and places responsibility on the Chairperson to make hearing arrangements and provide adequate notice to affected parties. (Id.) Section 40 requires the Administratorship Hearing Board to hold a hearing “as soon as is consistent with due process, ” with a minimum of seven days' advance notice and not later than 21 days after the imposition of the administratorship. (Id. at 104-05.) Section 40 also guarantees “[a]ll interested parties . . . a fair opportunity to present their views on the matter.” (Id. at 105.) Section 41 requires the Administratorship Hearing Board to decide the matter “as expeditiously as possible, ” and Section 42 states that the Board has the power to vacate the International President's decision. (Id.) Section 42 further grants both the International President and the affected local the right to appeal the Board's decision to the International Executive Board. (Id.) This body generally meets quarterly. (Dkt. No. 21 ¶ 27.)

         Article XI of the AFSCME Constitution discusses the composition and functions of the Judicial Panel. The Judicial Panel is composed of nine members who are selected by the International President and the International Executive Board for three-year terms. (Dkt. No. 21 ¶ 23.) The members of the Judicial Panel are from different parts of the country, and no member of the Judicial Panel may participate in any case arising from a local of which that member is or was a member. (Id.)

         A. Local 375 Election History and the Imposition of the Administratorship

         While the allegations of dysfunction within Local 375 have a longer history, the catalyst for the imposition of the administratorship in this case was a series of election protests beginning in December 2015. That election was largely held between two slates of candidates: the “Claude Fort Slate, ” representing the longstanding incumbent president of Local 375, and the “New Directions Slate, ” to which the Plaintiffs in this case belonged. (Dkt No. 61-1 at 16-19.) The New Directions Slate, which lost the first round of the elections, brought a challenge alleging various irregularities. A hearing was held on February 1, 2016, and the Judicial Panel rendered a decision on February 24, 2016. (Dkt. No. 21-6 (“February Decision”).)

         In the February Decision, the Judicial Panel determined that various slates had improperly used union resources for campaign purposes. (Id. at 6.) Specifically, email domains owned by one of Local 375's chapters were used to disseminate campaign material. (Id.) The Panel also found that campaign emails had been sent to City of New York work emails, held that “direct or indirect use of employer resources, equipment and supplies, during a union campaign is improper and not allowed, ” and clarified that this included employer email. (Id.) While the Panel determined that a “substantial majority” of the offending emails supported the slate of then-incumbent President Claude Fort, it also found that “a significant number of emails . . . were sent to work emails . . . which supported other slates or which attacked the Claude Fort Slate.” (Id. at 4.) Finally, the Panel determined that the Fort slate had improperly used a union newsletter to publish articles critical of two members running in opposition to his slate. (Id. at 10.)

         In response to these findings, the Judicial Panel vacated the results of the December 2015 elections, cancelled the scheduled run-off, and directed a new election of all Local 375 officers supervised by the International Union. (Id. at 15.)

         A new election was conducted in May 2016; this time, the New Directions Slate won a narrow victory. Aggrieved members of the Claude Fort Slate filed an election challenge with the Judicial Panel, a hearing was held on July 7, 2016, and a preliminary decision was issued on August 12, 2016. (Dkt. No. 21-2 (“August Decision”); see also Dkt. No. 21 ¶¶ 10-11.))

         In the August Decision, the Judicial Panel found “unequivocal evidence that dozens of improper campaign emails were again sent to the City of New York addresses of Local 375 members . . . by or on behalf of both the ‘Team Claude Fort' slate and the ‘New Direction' slate running for office.” (Dkt. No. 21-2 at 3.) The Panel noted that the February Decision was “absolutely clear” that any further violations would lead to the vacating of the election results, and that “there was a presumption by the undersigned, which has obviously proven to be unfounded, that based on that decision-which is a lawful order of the Judicial Panel-there would be no improper emails by any slate or candidates . . . in the rerun of the election.” (Id.) The Panel emphasized once more that “both major slates of candidates [were] responsible for such action.” (Id. at 4.) The Panel also found a secondary violation when a chapter president denied incumbent president Claude Fort the right to speak at a meeting where two of the challengers were permitted to speak, and noted that “these actions clearly undermine[d] the right of members to hear all sides of the election debate, and goes [sic] to the very core of union democracy.” (Id. at 7-8.)

         The Panel concluded that it had heard “evidence of the continued complete disregard for AFSCME's Election Code” and that “the evidence established that the conduct which violated the Election Code . . . did not abate after the initial election, and if anything, has become ingrained in Local 375. The total disregard of the Election Code and the [February Decision] has seriously undermined the members' rights to a free and fair election.” (Id. at 10.) Accordingly, the Panel concluded that “ordering a new election . . . would continue what appears to be a now endless spiral of ignoring AFSCME's Election Code and would further the dysfunction now evident in this Local Union” and referred the case over to President Saunders for investigation. (Id. at 11.)

         On August 29, 2016, Saunders sent a series of letters to each of Local 375's election union officers, advising them of his decision to impose an administratorship in response to the referral from the Judicial Panel. (See Dkt. No. 21-1.) The letters stated:

On August 12, 2016, the Judicial Panel forwarded to this office its preliminary decision in Case No. 16-64-Local 375 Election Protest. I have reviewed the issues presented in that case, as well as the Judicial Panel's findings. I am of the opinion that the conduct that occurred is a continuation of a pattern demonstrated through numerous other Judicial Panel decisions, such that I find the existence of an emergency situation in [Local 375]. Specifically, I am of the opinion that the local is acting in violation of the International Constitution by its repeated engagement of conduct that violates several provisions of the Bill of Rights for Union Members, including their right to fair and democratic elections and their right to full participation in the decision making processes of the union. I am further of the opinion that such conduct cannot or will not be immediately remedied by the local. Therefore, in accordance with Article IX, Section 37 of the International Constitution, I am placing Local 375 under administratorship, pending notice and hearing, effective immediately.

(Id.) President Saunders appointed AFSCME's Area Field Services Director, John English, to serve as the Administrator of Local 375, and immediately suspended all of the local's elected officers. (Id.)

         B. The Administratorship ...

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