by Paul Alan Levy
Over the course of more than twenty years of representing union members in litigation over issues of union democracy, before my main focus switched to Internet law and IP issues, I found that in some unions, the leaders think nothing of spending other peoples’ money – the union treasury that is funded by members’ dues—to cling to power by suppressing opposition. And because the union’s lawyers treat the leadership and not the union entity as their client, they are all too happy to defend any legal position their real clients — the ones who decide to hire them — want them to take, no matter how lacking in merit. As I discussed in a blog post earlier this month, it appears that the American Postal Workers Union is no different.
In a decision issued last night, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly decided that the APWU is obligated to comply with a request from the APWU Members First slate of candidates to have their campaign literature distributed by email to each of the 27,00 email addresses that the union has accumulated for its members. Granting a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit in which Public Citizen represented three of the rank-and-file candidates (papers can be found here), she held that the fact that the APWU claims to have philosophical disagreements with the use of email, instead of postal mail sent with a stamp, does not give this union a free pass to deem requests for email distribution unreasonable. She also found the union’s claimed opposition to email “disingenuous” because the union sends out weekly email newsletters to two separate groups of members (we have been identifying other uses of email that the union appears to have hidden from the judge in its affidavits).
The APWU’s leadership are apparently gluttons for punishment because, even after being called on the carpet for to denying its members the right to use 21st Century communications methods, they have also threatened rank-and-file candidates over use of the union’s initials, APWU, in their campaign buttons, flyers and web site to identify the union that they are trying to reform through their campaign. We have explained the legal errors in their claim but an “appeals committee” reaffirmed the union’s position in a Star-Chamber-like ruling, addressing an “appeal” about which the rank-and-filers learned only when the ruling was issued.
We expect to file a declaratory judgment action over that issue next week.