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Elections 101: What Potential Union Representatives Need to Know

June 2nd, 2016

Elections-101-What-Potential-Union-Representatives-Need-to-KnowLabor unions are complex and highly regulated entities. A union, by nature, must uphold the values of a democracy while fastidiously fulfilling its obligations as a distinct legal institution. When elections are held within a union to determine who is best suited to be at its helm, the stakes can be very high for members. Debates often become fierce; some challenges to union elections have been taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Internal union elections are far more controlled than they are in other voluntary membership organizations, and that can cause confusion or dissent. It takes sophisticated knowledge to navigate the combination of internal constitutional requirements regarding elections and the stringent requirements of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).

What’s more, labor law is constantly changing, as public opinion influences new legislation. It is important, therefore, when becoming involved in any union election to obtain the most current legal advice and stay up to date on decisions of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the courts.

As complex as union election regulations may seem, at their core is the common goal of ensuring that all union members in good standing are informed and given a full and equal opportunity to voice their opinions and needs. Every possible precaution should be taken to ensure that potential violations of the law are prevented, because a union will simply not serve its members best or effectively fulfill its mission if it must expend time and energy on addressing legal complaints.

A combination of federal law and union by-laws governs issues such as who may be nominated for office, what constitutes reasonable notice for nominations, and how members may be contacted by campaigning candidates.

Campaign fundraising also is strictly controlled by LMRDA regulations, which preclude contribution practices that can muddy the waters of an election, such as employers contributing for a favorite candidate, or existing union officers using union dues to support their own campaigns. Campaign budgets should be transparent enough to withstand rigorous inspection if a candidate wishes to ensure that all of his or her legal obligations are being met.

As a final measure against possible complaints of duress and discrimination, the LMRDA requires all union elections involving key positions of authority to be administered using a federally supervised secret ballot system.

Willig, Williams & Davidson has fought for the rights of working men and women for decades, acting as legal allies for hundreds of labor unions and organizations representing both public and private employees. If you have questions about labor union elections, our labor lawyers can help. Contact us at 800-631-1233.

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