DOL Rules on IUOE Local Election Complaints

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As we reported in the July/August 2010 issue of Union Democracy Review (UDR 186), Finn Pette the former financial secretary of Local 501 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, had launched a campaign for local business manager. However, he was not allowed to run because he had earlier been "convicted" on trumped up charges.  In a recent decision, the DOL has filed suit to void the election and conduct a rerun under its supervision.

As explained in UDR 184, after demanding that Dennis Lundy, the local's apprenticeship coordinator and associate of IUOE International President Vincent Giblin, pay back $2,350 of the program's monies that had been used for his own personal expenses, Pette, the then Business Manager Jim McLaughlin, and the program's chairman Dan Himmelberg, were brought up on similar charges of misappropriating local funds (by the International President Giblin himself). They were fined a combined $3,138, but a group of local members took up a collection of these fines in their defense.

After Pette's candidacy was not allowed on the grounds of this conviction, Pette, along with several other complainants, filed protests with the local Executive Board in September 2010. The complainants' protests were all denied by the local Executive Board. Therefore, in November 2010, the complainants moved ahead and filed an appeal to the International EB. After three months however, when no decision was forthcoming, in January 2011 the complainants proceeded to file their complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Ruling on these complaints this past October, the DOL found three causes of action:  First, in July 2010 Finn Pette and Himmelberg were disqualified from running for office on the ground that they "had been found guilty of misappropriating and converting assets of Local 501 to their personal use." This finding relied on a conviction imposed by the International in April 2010. However, the DOL found that the International failed to comply with Section 105(a)(5) of the LMRDA, namely that members subject to discipline be served with "specific charges and afforded a full and fair hearing."

In the notice of the trial, the International had informed Pette and Himmelberg that if payment in full of the allegedly misappropriated monies was not received by April 13, 2010, the trial would proceed. Despite full payment of the monies (via the collection taken up by fellow members), the International "imposed conditions not specified in the notice to reject the validity of the payments and proceeded to trial without any further notice that the trial would take place."

Effectively, the International denied Pette and Himmelberg notice of the trial. This violation by the International meant that the Local's disqualification of them, based upon the International's violation, was itself a violation of Title IV of the LMRDA because the discipline was unfair.

The second cause for action was that the local had, for the August 26, 2010 election, adopted a ballot which allowed voters to vote for an entire slate of candidates by checking just a single box. However, in order for candidates to be listed together on the ballot in this way, a slate was defined as consisting of at least 10 candidates.  

Pette and Himmelberg, initially 2 of 19 candidates running on the Resistance Slate, were also 2 of 11 of those candidates who were disqualified from running. The result was that what had initially been an entire slate that could be voted for with a single checkmark, was reduced to eight independent candidates. The DOL found that this was also a violation of Title IV of the LMRDA, because it was a failure to provide adequate safeguards to insure a fair election.

The third cause for action was the fact that the ballots themselves contained an error in the voting instructions.  Specifically, the ballots instructed voters to "vote for four (3)" candidates. This resulted in some members casting votes for four candidates, when in fact they were only allowed to vote for three. Again, the DOL found that this violated Title IV of the LMRDA, because it was also a failure to provide adequate safeguards to insure a fair election.

Rank-and-file group, reform group, slate or campaign