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Union Member Rights

The following information was provided through the efforts of the
Association for Union Democracy


The Association for Union Democracy is a national pro-union non-profit that promotes the principles and practices of internal union democracy in the North American labor movement.

A. This outline summarizes the legal rights of private sector workers within their unions. Some internal union problems are extremely complex and require expert legal advice; in such cases you should consult a labor lawyer.

B. The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, defines the rights of private-sector union members and the responsibilities of union officials. A copy of the Act is available through any U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL") local office. (The rights of members of state and local government employees are regulated by state law. Federal government employees are protected by the Civil Service Reform Act which gives them rights similar to those contained in the LMRDA.)


Title I - Bill of Rights for Union Members

A.You have equal rights and privileges within the union to nominate candidates, to vote in elections, to participate in meetings and to vote upon the business of the meetings, subject to reasonable rules in the union constitution and by-laws.

B. You have the right to engage in free speech activities and to assemble freely with other union members, without reprisals from union officials. Examples of such activities are:

1. criticizing union officials;

2. expressing any viewpoint at union meetings, subject to reasonable rules about the conduct of meetings;

3. distributing literature outside or the union hall or inside the hall if members cannot reasonably be reached from the outside; and

4. holding separate caucus meetings of rank and file members without interference of union officials.

C. You have the right to a secret ballot vote on the rates of dues, initiation fees and assessments.

D. You have the right to sue the union without reprisal, but you may be required to exhaust the internal union appeal procedures for no more than four months.

E. You are protected from improper union discipline.

1 . Due process is required in internal union disciplinary hearings. This means you have the right to written and specific charges, the right to confront and cross-examine accusers, the right to present evidence in your defense and the right to a decision based on the evidence.

2. You cannot be disciplined for exercising your protected rights. You may, however, legally be disciplined for the following activities:

a) participating in wildcat strikes;

b) advocating decertification of the union;

c) nonpayment of dues; and

d) other acts which interfere with the legal or contractual obligations of the union or which threaten the existence of the union as an institution.

F. You have the right to receive a copy or your contract, along with all riders and supplements, and to inspect copies or all contracts that your local union administers.

G. Enforcement or your rights under Title 1.

1. You may file a lawsuit in federal district court for injunctive relief, restoration of your rights and money damages. You must hire your own attorney to represent you in such a lawsuit.

2. If you are denied a copy or your contract, you may file a complaint with the DOL which will investigate and has authority to bring a lawsuit on your behalf.


Title II - Reporting Requirements

A. Unions are required to file copies of the constitution and by-laws, and annual financial reports, known as "LM-2 reports", with the DOL. The reports contain officers' salaries and expenses, as well as other union expenditures.

B. Copies of the documents filed with the DOL are public information and may be obtained from the local DOL office or ordered on line by clicking here.

Title III - Trusteeships

A. Trusteeships over a subordinate labor organization are presumed valid for the first 18 months and are presumed invalid thereafter. The presumption of validity may be overcome by showing that the imposition of the trusteeship violated union procedures or that the trusteeship was imposed for improper purposes, such as, punishing a dissident local officer.

B. The trusteeship provisions may be enforced either by filing a complaint with the DOL which has authority to sue, or by filing suit through your own attorney in federal district court.


Title IV - Elections

A. A local union must hold regular secret ballot elections of officers at least every three years.

1 . All members in good standing have a right to run for office, subject to reasonable, uniformly imposed qualifications.

2. All members may support the candidate of their choice free from penalty or reprisal of any kind by the union.

3. A candidate has a right to inspect the membership list one time during an election campaign. The union is required to mail candidates' campaign literature to union members at the candidates' expense.

4. No union or employer money, resources, or other goods or services may be contributed to support any candidate in the election.. This prohibition covers all employers, not just those which have a contract with the union.

B. Enforcement of election provisions.

1. Candidates for union office may file suit before the election if their rights to a membership mailing are violated or if the union is discriminating in the use of the membership lists. Pre-election relief in other circumstances is extremely limited.

2. Post-election relief.

a) You must first file a timely election protest under your union constitution and by-laws. Your protest must contain all complaints you have about the election. If you have not obtained relief from the union within three months, you must file a complaint with the DOL within the fourth month. If the union makes a final determination rejecting your protest before three months have elapsed, you must file a complaint with the DOL within one month. This procedure is the exclusive method available for protesting an election; you may not file your own lawsuit in court.

b) The DOL investigates your charges and decides whether to file a lawsuit on your behalf. The DOL has virtually unlimited discretion to decide whether or not to sue on your behalf.

C) If the DOL does decide to overturn the election, a candidate has a limited right to intervene in the lawsuit with private counsel. The remedy is usually a federally supervised election.


Title V - Fiduciary Provisions

A. Union officials have a fiduciary duty which means that they must use the union's resources only for the benefit of the members, not for their own benefit.

B. Members wishing to sue union officials for violation of the fiduciary duty provisions must first request that the union itself take action. If the union does not then take action within a "reasonable period of time", the members may request permission of the court to sue.

For additional references and resources regarding the LMRDAClick here

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Copyright 1999 Transit Employees Association of Texas.