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TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION LOCAL 234 v. TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION

December 19, 2002

THE EXECUTIVE BOARD OF TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF PHILADELPHIA, LOCAL 234; THOMAS CASEY; JOSEPH COCCIO; BRIAN POLLITT; KARL TURNER; ROBERT O'CONNOR; ABE TISDALE; WILLIE BECKTON; CHARLES CLANCY; ROBERT D'ALFONSO; MEMBERS OF TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF PHILADELPHIA, LOCAL 234, PLAINTIFFS
V.
TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO; NELLIE (JEAN) ALEXANDER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRESIDENT OF TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION, LOCAL 234, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Baylson, United States District Judge

  OPINION

"The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority. . . ."*fn1 When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote these words in the middle of the nineteenth century, there were, of course, no labor unions. De Tocqueville was relating his perceptive observations of American society in general, and the methodology by which Americans selected their government in particular. But the thoughts which he expressed convey an important principle for the issue at stake in this case, that the winner of a democratically held election controls the body politic; indeed, the elected majority makes the decisions, subject only to the constraints of an overriding constitution. This is the foundation under which our Congress operates, under which our state legislatures operate, and for the reasons stated in this opinion, under which this Court finds that Transport Workers Union ("TWU") Local 234 ("Local 234") must operate: to adhere to "the absolute sovereignty of the majority."

I. Background

Internal disputes of Local 234 are not a stranger to this Court. The most recent decision, Transport Workers Union of Philadelphia, Local 234 v. Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, 131 F. Supp.2d 659, 661 (E.D.Pa. 2001) (Bechtle, J.)), imposed a trusteeship on this local after TWU levied charges against Local 234 Executive Board members for financial malpractice, subversion of union democracy, and discord among the Board members. Id. at 661. One of Judge Bechtle's reasons for doing so was that "a preliminary injunction enforcing the trusteeship is necessary to restore democratic procedures." Id. at 667. The trusteeship remained in effect from early 2001 until the election of new officers took place in July 2002. Executive Board of Local 234 v. Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, C.A. No. 02-6633, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15471, at *4 (E.D.Pa. Aug. 9, 2002).

On July 19, 2002, an election was held for Local 234 officers and its Executive Board ("Board"). (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 9).*fn2 As a result of the election, fourteen Local 234 members were elected to positions on the Board. Id. ¶ 10. These fourteen members ran on two opposing electoral slates, including nine members, the individual Plaintiffs, who ran as part of the "Jeffrey Brooks Unity Team," and five members who ran on the "Alexander slate," named after Local President and Defendant, Jean (Nellie) Alexander ("Alexander"). Id. ¶ 11. The election resulted in a "split Board" for the first time in Local 234's history. Id. Previously, competing electoral slates had always won all seats on the Board. Id.

On July 25, 2002, the Board convened its first meeting with all members present, and Alexander presiding. Id. ¶ 23. After discussion and debate, the Board passed the following three motions: (1) to hire a professional accountant to inspect and audit the books and records of the Local's finances; (2) to retain a law firm as legal counsel to the Local; and (3) to hire five union members as full time staff in accordance with the Local's collective bargaining agreement with SEPTA. Id.; Pl.'s Ex. 3. The Board also voted temporarily to refrain from hiring any business agents pending the completion of a review of the Local's finances. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 23). All of these motions passed by a vote of nine to five, with Alexander and her fellow slate members voting against all the motions. Id. ¶ 24.

That same day, Alexander sent a letter to TWU President Sonny Hall challenging the constitutionality of the motions passed by the Board and requesting a presidential interpretation of the scope of her powers as the Local 234 President under the TWU Constitution. Id. ¶ 25; Pl.'s Ex. 4. She claimed that she had "the power, to the exclusion of the Executive Board, to designate the Local's attorneys, accountants and appointed Business Agents" based on "the implied powers given to the President" by Article XVI § 1 of the TWU Constitution, (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 25; Pl.'s Ex. 4), which provides:

The President shall preside at all meetings of the Local Union, the Local Executive Board and Joint Executive Committee. He/she shall sign all orders of the Financial Secretary-Treasurer authorized by the Local Executive Board and shall countersign all checks issued by the Financial Secretary-Treasurer against the accounts of the Local Union on authorization of the Local Executive Board. He/she shall enforce the provisions of this Constitution. He/she shall appoint all committees not otherwise provided for. He/she shall perform such other duties as the Local Union, or the Local Executive Board may assign to him/her; and except as to powers and duties specifically conferred on him/her by the Constitution, he/she shall adhere to all decisions and directions of, and be subject to, the Local Executive Board. He/she shall be, ex officio, a delegate to Convention of the International Union and of all organizations to which the Local is affiliated. He/she shall be responsible for the proper conduct of the affairs of the Local union, and the compliance by his/her fellow officers with their obligations under the International Constitution and the Local by-laws. He/she shall be chairman of the Local's Committee on Political Education.

(Pl.'s Ex. 1).

On the very next day, July 26, 2002, President Hall rendered an interpretation of the TWU Constitution which upheld the local president's responsibility "for the proper conduct of the affairs of the Local Union." (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 31; Pl.'s Ex. 5). He wrote that that responsibility was "inextricably bound up" with a local president's exclusive power to hire and fire staff members:

Article XVI, Section 1., places on the Local President the responsibility "for the proper conduct of the affairs of the Local Union." It is inconceivable to me that a Local President could even begin to carry out this responsibility without the power to select staff and professionals whom the President felt he/she could trust to provide the necessary assistance in a reliable manner. The responsibility for "the proper conduct of the affairs of the Local Union" is thus inextricably bound up with the power to hire and fire staff professionals. The Executive Board of the Local cannot usurp the power in question without invading a responsibility specifically assigned by the Constitution to the Local President. Any attempt by an Executive Board, on its own and contrary to the wishes to the President, to exercise the power to hire and fire thus violates the T.W.U. Constitution.

(Pl.'s Ex. 5).

Following the filing of the Complaint in this action, Plaintiffs appealed President Hall's interpretation to the International Executive Council ("IEC"), as permitted by the TWU Constitution, Article V § 1. (Pl.'s Ex. 1). On October 30, 2002, the IEC issued a decision affirming President Hall's interpretation, but clarified that the Board could review decisions made by the Local President and may disapprove certain decisions based on an undefined "reasonableness standard." (Pl.'s Ex. 6). This letter reflects Defendants' position against the Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction and states in pertinent part as follows:

Your appeal from the interpretation of the T.W.U. Constitution by President Hall (dated July 26, 2002) was placed before the International Executive Council on October 22, 2002. Prior to consideration of the matter by the entire Council, President Hall told the Council that his interpretation should not be taken to stand for more than what it explicitly stated, namely, that the decisions to hire and fire staff, and to retain outside professional help, must originate with the President, and that the Executive Board had no right to usurp this Presidential authority by initiating decisions on who to hire and who to retain without reference to the decisions made by the President. He said that this interpretation should not be taken to mean that the Executive Board had no role whatever in reviewing these kinds of decisions by the President, or that in appropriate cases the Executive Board could not be justified in voting to disapprove, for instance, a particular arrangement reached between the President and an outside lawyer or accountant, provided its justification for the rejection was reasonable.

Id.

The letter continues, that a motion to affirm the constitutional interpretation made by President Hill in his letter of July 26 was passed.

An evidentiary hearing was held on December 11, 2002. At the hearing, the Plaintiffs presented testimony from Thomas R. Casey, the duly elected Recording Secretary of Local 234, and a number of documents. The Defendants introduced exhibits but did not present any testimony.

Plaintiffs have agreed that their Motion will be limited to Count I of the Complaint, which alleges that President Hall's interpretation of Article XVI § 1 of the TWU Constitution, giving the Local President the power to hire and fire legal counsel, professional consultants, and other staff without approval from the Board, violates the TWU Constitution and Local 234 By-laws.*fn3 Plaintiffs assert that President Hall's interpretation directly contradicts provisions of the TWU Constitution establishing Executive Board supremacy in the administration of daily affairs of Local 234, is patently unreasonable, not entitled to judicial deference, and that TWU has violated section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185 et seq. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 47-48).

Plaintiffs request that TWU be enjoined from giving force or effect to President Hall's July 26, 2002 constitutional interpretation of presidential powers and otherwise interfering with the internal affairs of Local 234; that TWU and Alexander give full force and effect to the motions passed at the Executive Board's July 25, 2002 meeting; and that Alexander be enjoined from filing disciplinary charges against Plaintiffs. (Pl.'s Mot. for Preliminary Injunctive Relief).

As noted above, Recording Secretary Casey testified at the Preliminary Injunction hearing. The Court found him credible in all respects. Mr. Casey detailed the debilitating effect that the bickering between the local factions has had on union affairs. The Local President, Defendant Alexander, has generally refused to honor the Executive Board's request for meetings, and there is a general shutdown of most union business. Although the parties did agree to what was referred to as a "cease-fire" reflected in a letter dated August 15, 2002, (Pl.'s Ex. 25), the internal operations of the union have been stymied by the dispute, with the Local President having the general backing of the international union's internal power to interpret the constitution, which it has done so as to deny the Local Executive Board any control over the operation of the local union.

II. Legal Standard and Jurisdiction

In ruling on a motion for a preliminary injunction, the Court must consider the following four factors: (1) the likelihood that the moving party will prevail on the merits; (2) the extent to which the moving party is irreparably harmed; (3) the extent to which the non-moving party will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is issued; and (4) the public interest. AT&T Co. v. Winback and Conserve Program, Inc., 42 F.3d 1421, 1427 (3d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1103, 115 S.Ct. 1838, 131 L.Ed.2d 757 (1995)). Issuing a preliminary injunction is an "`extraordinary remedy' and should be restricted to `limited circumstances.'" Moscony v. Quaker Farms, LP, C.A. No. 00-2285, 2000 WL 1801853, at *1 (E.D.Pa. Dec. 8, 2000)) (quoting Instant Air Freight Co. v. C.F. Air Freight, Inc., 882 F.2d 797, 800 (3d Cir. 1989)). A district court should endeavor to balance these four factors to determine whether an injunction should issue. See BP Chemical Ltd. v. Formosa Chemical & Fibre Corp., 229 F.3d 254, 263 (3d Cir. 2000). All four factors must weigh in favor of granting the preliminary injunction. See Pappan Enter., Inc. v. Hardee's Food Sys., Inc., 143 F.3d 800, 803 (3d Cir. 1998). The moving party clearly bears the burden to prove that all elements required for a preliminary injunction are met. See Adams v. Freedom Forge Corp., 204 F.3d 475, 486 (3d Cir. 2000).

The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as this is a dispute involving a labor organization according to 29 U.S.C. § 185(c). Venue is appropriate under 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) and 29 U.S.C. § 412 because duly authorized officers or agents of the subject labor organization are engaged in representing or acting for employee members within this District, and the alleged violation is occurring in this District.

III. Summary of Issues

A. Plaintiffs' Arguments

Plaintiffs argue that President Hall's interpretation of the TWU Constitution is "patently unreasonable" and not worthy of the deference courts normally afford an official interpretation of a union constitution. (Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. 6-7). They assert that his enumeration of presidential powers as "inextricably bound up" with a general grant of responsibility directly contradicts the language of Article XVI § 1, which, in describing the duties of the Local President, provides that "except as to powers and duties specifically conferred on him/her by the Constitution, he/she shall adhere to all decisions and directions of, and be subject to, the Local Executive Board." Id. at 7. Plaintiffs assert that the Local President is subordinate to and must follow the directions and instructions of the Board. Id. To support this, they cite Article XII § 2 of the TWU Constitution, which provides that between meetings of the local union membership, "the Local Executive Board shall have the authority to administer the affairs of the Local Union." Id. They also quote from Local 234's By-laws that "all decisions and rules shall be made by the Executive Board." Id. However, this provision comes under Article IV, which only refers to the "Relationship Between the Executive Board and the Joint Executive Committee." (Pl.'s Ex. 2).

Plaintiffs assert that neither the TWU Constitution nor Local 234's By-laws "specifically confer" upon the Local President the power to retain legal counsel, hire and fire professional consultants, or hire and fire business agents, but that President Hall's interpretation gives the Local President this exclusive authority, an unreasonable departure from the explicit language of the TWU Constitution limiting the Local President's powers to those specifically conferred on him or her, and giving all other power to the Board (Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Id. at 9). They argue that President Hall used the "responsible for" language in Article XVI § 1 as a source of implied presidential power, but this language is specifically omitted from Local 234's By-laws, which are the same as Article XVI § 1 except for this omission. Id. at 9-13; Pl.'s Ex. 1, 2.

B. Defendants' Arguments

Defendants principally rely on the well-established judicial reticence to enter into labor union internal disputes. They also rely on the language of Article XVI § 1, which states that the "Local President shall be responsible for the proper conduct of the affairs of the Local Union." (Def.'s Mem. Opp. Mot. 6). They point out that there is no constitutional provision expressly giving either the Local President or the Board the power to retain counsel, hire accountants, or employ staff. Id. However, they acknowledge, except as to powers specifically conferred on the President by the TWU Constitution, the Local President must adhere to the decisions and directions of the Board. Id.

Defendants contend that Local 234 Presidents historically have exercised the power to originate employment decisions. Id. at 7-8. They assert that the silence of past Boards in response to past Presidents appointing or firing business agents indicates a tacit acknowledgment that "the power to initiate staffing decisions resides with the Local President." Id. at 8. They further claim that Plaintiffs have offered no evidence that past Boards have ever exercised the unreviewable ...


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