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Reich v. Local 30

filed: October 6, 1993.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil Action No. 91-00029).

Before: Stapleton, Alito, and Roth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Roth


ROTH, Circuit Judge :

Reasonableness does not have a bright line definition. What is reasonable varies with the circumstances. Congress has specifically allowed labor unions to impose "reasonable qualifications" upon the eligibility of union members to be candidates in union elections. In this appeal, we must determine whether a union bylaw, which restricts such eligibility, is reasonable. The Secretary of Labor has argued that it is not.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary. The Secretary's complaint alleged that Local 30 of the Teamsters Union had violated section 401(e) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 ("LMRDA" or "the Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 481(e), by "depriving a member in good standing of a reasonable opportunity to be a candidate" in the October 1990 election. The Union's bylaw terminates a member's good standing status six months after the member is no longer employed at a craft within the jurisdiction of the local. Because the Secretary has not introduced any evidence to show that the Union's restriction is inconsistent with the Act's purpose to ensure "free and democratic" elections, we conclude that the Secretary is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law that Local 30's bylaw is unreasonable. We find to the contrary that the Union's qualification is reasonable and does not violate the Act; therefore, we will reverse the district court's summary judgment order.


This action is based upon Local 30's ruling that Thomas C. Felice, a member of Local 30 from November 1978 through January 31, 1989, was not eligible to run for the office of trustee in the election held on October 22, 1990. Local 30 is a local labor organization based in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. It is affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, AFL-CIO ("IBT"), an international labor organization based in Washington, D.C. Local 30 has approximately 2,400 members who are employed as truck drivers, warehousemen, healthcare workers, service and maintenance employees, security and office workers, cable TV installers, and Pennsylvania Turnpike supervisors.

As an affiliate of the IBT, Local 30 is bound by the IBT Constitution. Article XVIII, Section 6(a), of the 1986 IBT Constitution reads, in pertinent part:

When a member becomes unemployed in the jurisdiction of the Local Union, he shall be issued an honorable withdrawal card upon his request. If no request is made, an honorable withdrawal card must be issued six (6) months after the month in which the member first becomes unemployed, if he is still unemployed at that time.

(emphasis added).

Between May 1979 and March 1988, Felice was a steward for M & G Convoy, Inc., a signatory of a collective bargaining agreement with Local 30. In June or July of 1988, Felice was permanently laid off by M & G Convoy due to the closing of the Volkswagen Plant in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. After his layoff, he continued to apply for employment in the area and continued to forward his union dues to Local 30. He also requested job referrals from the Union. Despite his efforts, Felice did not obtain a position with an employer having a collective bargaining agreement with Local 30. Finally in July 1989, Felice accepted full time employment with Provide Health Care, Inc., in a non-union job. Local 30 is not party to a collective bargaining agreement with Provide Health Care.

On February 20, 1989, Felice received a letter from Local 30 containing an honorable withdrawal card. The letter stated that, because Felice had not worked within the jurisdiction of Local 30*fn1 for a period in excess of six months,*fn2 the card was being forwarded pursuant to Article XVIII, Section 6(a), of the IBT Constitution. Felice was also informed that Local 30 would no longer accept his attempts to pay membership dues. Consequently, Felice would not be permitted to hold union office. The honorable withdrawal card allows Felice to regain membership status without paying a second initiation fee once he is reemployed within the Union's jurisdiction.

The elected officers of Local 30 include the president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer, recording secretary and three trustees. Elections are held every three years. Felice sought to run for the office of trustee in Local 30's October 1990 scheduled election. Uncertain of his status, in June 1990 he asked the Union's secretary-treasurer for a written determination of his eligibility to be a candidate. The secretary-treasurer replied that Felice was ineligible to run for elected office in the Union because he had been issued a withdrawal card and did not meet the eligibility requirements of Article II, Section 4(a)(1), of the IBT Constitution, governing a member's qualification to run for office.*fn3

Felice appealed Local 30's negative decision to the IBT general president. The general president denied the appeal. On July 23, 1990, Felice filed a complaint with the Department of Labor ("Department") alleging that he had exhausted his internal remedies and that both Local 30 and the IBT had improperly determined his ineligibility for union office. The Department advised Felice to file an immediate appeal with the IBT General Executive Board (the "Board") in order to exhaust his internal appeals. The Board received Felice's appeal of the general president's decision on July 30, 1990, and notified Felice that it would review his appeal at its next scheduled meeting.

At the September 15, 1990, nominations meeting, Felice was nominated for the position of trustee. Two days later, Local 30 President, Thomas Sever, advised Felice that he was ineligible to run for Local 30 office because he had not met the 24 month continuous good standing requirement set forth in Article II, Section 4(a)(1), of the IBT Constitution.

Felice alleges that he formally appealed Local 30's September 17 decision to the general president by letter dated September 20, 1990, wherein he referenced his earlier June appeal to the general president and the denial of that appeal. Felice claims that he did not receive a response from the general president regarding his September 20, 1990, appeal. Local 30, on the other hand, does not acknowledge receiving a protest by Felice dated September 20, 1990. Nevertheless, by letter dated October 17, 1990, from the general secretary of the IBT, Felice was advised that the Board had voted to deny his appeal. He was also advised that the Board had affirmed the propriety of the Union's issuance of the honorable withdrawal card.

On November 9, 1990, Felice filed a complaint with the Department, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 482(a)(1), protesting the Board's October 17 decision. The Secretary initiated the present suit in the Western District of Pennsylvania on January 8, 1991, under 29 U.S.C. § 482(b).*fn4 He alleged that Felice was a member in good standing of Local 30 and that the Union's mandatory issuance of a withdrawal card had deprived Felice of a reasonable opportunity to be a candidate for office in violation of section 401(e) of the LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. § 481 (e). Section 401(e) provides:

[A] reasonable opportunity shall be given for the nomination of candidates and every member in good standing shall be eligible to be a candidate and to hold office (subject to . . . reasonable qualifications uniformly imposed) . . ..

(emphasis added). The Secretary asked the district court to declare the Union's October 1990 trustee election void and to order the Union to conduct a new election under his supervision. 29 U.S.C. § 482(c); Local No. 82, Furniture & Piano Moving v. Crowley, 467 U.S. 526, 540, 81 L. Ed. 2d 457, 104 S. Ct. 2557 (1984).

The Secretary and the Union both filed motions for summary judgment. In response to the Secretary's claims, Local 30 argued that Felice was not a member of Local 30 and therefore not a "member in good standing" entitled to protection under the LMRDA; that the membership eligibility requirements were reasonable and did not violate the LMRDA; and that, even if Felice were a member of Local 30, he was not "actively employed at the craft within the jurisdiction" of Local 30 for 24 consecutive months prior to the month of ...

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