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Chao v. Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters

September 29, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly United States District Judge



The Secretary of Labor filed a complaint against the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters (CRC) alleging that the CRC violated sections 401(d) and (e) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, 29 U.S.C. §§ 481(d) -- (e), during its July 9, 2005 election. The Court permitted Jeff Fearon, one of the union members whose complaint triggered the lawsuit, to intervene in the case. The Secretary and the CRC have filed a motion for entry of a stipulation of settlement and order -- effectively, a consent decree. Fearon has raised several objections to the proposed stipulation. For the reasons stated below, the Court approves the stipulation over Fearon's objections.

Factual Background

The CRC is the regional affiliate of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC); the CRC's constituency consists of forty-two local union affiliates. On July 9, 2005, the CRC conducted its officer election, during which local delegates nominated and elected CRC officers. Several union members, including Fearon, lodged internal protests regarding the election procedures. They were unable to secure a remedy from the union and thus filed complaints with the Secretary.

After investigating the complaints, the Secretary filed this action on May 8, 2006. Specifically, the Secretary challenged two provisions of the CRC's by-laws that establish who can serve as a local delegate to the CRC and who can serve as a CRC officer. Section 14(b) of the CRC by-laws addresses the election of delegates to the CRC. It provides that "[a]ny officer of the Regional Council . . . shall by virtue of his or her office be a Delegate to the Regional Council and shall be included in the total number of Delegates any Local is entitled to have." See Sec'y's Resp. to the Court's Inquiry, Ex. 1 (hereinafter "CRC by-laws"), § 14(b). Under this provision, a CRC officer automatically serves as a CRC delegate even though her local has not elected her to the position. Section 5(A) of the CRC by-laws discusses the qualifications for CRC officers. It states that "[o]nly those members who have been Delegates to the Regional Council for three (3) years successively, prior to nomination, shall be eligible for nomination and election." CRC by-laws, § 5(A). Under this provision, a union member must be elected as a delegate and serve for three years before she can run for CRC office.

In her complaint, the Secretary alleged that the challenged sections of the CRC by-laws violated sections 401(d) and (e) of the LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 481(d) & (e), by denying union members a reasonable opportunity to nominate or be nominated as local delegates or as CRC officers and by failing to ensure that all local delegates and CRC officers were elected by secret ballot. The Secretary asked the Court to declare the CRC delegate and officer elections void and to require the CRC to redo both levels of the election. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 8-16.

The Proposed Stipulation

The Secretary and the CRC have reached an agreement under which the CRC admits no wrongdoing but agrees to redo certain delegate elections and the entire officer election under the Secretary's supervision. With regard to the delegate elections, the agreement requires local unions to conduct new elections for those delegate positions that are vacant or that are currently filled by a CRC officer. With regard to the officer election, the agreement provides that any union member in good standing may be a candidate for regional office. Before the elections, the Secretary and the CRC will hold a pre-election meeting to discuss the details of how the election will be conducted. The Secretary will supervise both levels of the election and will certify the results to the Court.


The Court begins by addressing Fearon's attack on the CRC's counsel. This argument is irrelevant to the reasonableness of the proposed stipulation, but the Court believes it is nonetheless important to dispose of it. Specifically, Fearon questions the role of the CRC's counsel in "representing" the local affiliates. Fearon's criticisms are based, however, on a fundamental misunderstanding of who must participate in lawsuits in which the Secretary is challenging elections for an intermediate union body. The intermediate body alone must be a party to the lawsuit because delegates are considered members of the intermediate body, not officers of the local affiliate. The local union need not be a party and therefore need not be represented. See Brock v. Int'l Union, United Auto., Aerospace, & Agric. Implement Workers, 682 F. Supp. 1415, 1430-31 (E.D. Mich. 1988), vacated as moot by 889 F.2d 685 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court therefore concludes that Fearon's criticisms of the CRC's counsel are irrelevant to this action.

The Court proceeds to Fearon's substantive critiques of the proposed stipulation. The Supreme Court has held that union members have a right to intervene in lawsuits by the Secretary to enforce Title IV of the LMRDA. Trbovich v. United Mine Workers, 404 U.S. 528, 537 (1972). Intervenors do not, however, have unfettered rights to participate in the lawsuit. Under Trbovich, they are limited to submitting evidence and proposing remedies regarding the violations charged by the Secretary. Intervenors may not inject into the case issues that are not raised in the Secretary's complaint. See id.

Several of Fearon's objections to the proposed stipulation are inappropriate because they involve issues that the Secretary opted not to raise in her complaint. Specifically, Fearon maintains that the proposed stipulation should have addressed several concerns he has about the Election Guide developed by the CRC's counsel and the provisions of the UBC constitution and the CRC by-laws relating to election committees, campaign literature, balloting, and conducting regional officer nominations and elections in executive committee. As the Secretary and the CRC point out, however, the Secretary did not address these issues in her complaint. For this reason, Trbovich does not permit the Court to consider these particular objections made by Fearon. See id.

Several of Fearon's objections relate to the violations alleged in the Secretary's complaint but are misdirected because they are based on a misreading of several cases interpreting Title IV. The Court begins with Fearon's main concern that several provisions of the proposed stipulation contradict provisions of the UBC constitution and the CRC by-laws. Fearon's discussion on this issue is rather confusing, ...

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