Snail Mail Eschewed in Postal Staff Union Race
(CN) - The Postal Workers Union must allow candidates for union positions to send members campaign emails, despite an ideological preference for U.S. mail, a federal judge ruled.
Mark Dimondstein, Tony McKinnon and Violetta Ward are running for the offices of president, industrial relations directors and secretary-treasurer of the American Postal Workers Union, respectively, in an election this fall.
As part of their campaign efforts, the candidates want to email their campaign literature to union members. Traditional postal mailings could each cost the candidates more than $100,000.
The union maintains a database with contact information about its members, which includes 27,000 email addresses for its total of 193,000 members.
When the candidates requested the email addresses of members, however, the union's election committee refused, stating "it is not the policy of the APWU to provide the email address of members."
The candidates then sued, and U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted them a preliminary injunction Thursday, finding no evidence that the request would pose a financial or administrative burden to the union, or that it would discriminate against any other candidates.
"Defendant makes much of the fact that it does not use the approximately 27,000 member e-mail addresses contained in the iMIS database to communicate with members," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "Yet the mere fact that defendant does not send mass e-mails to all of the 27,000 e-mail addresses in its database does not show the absence of e-mail communication with members. Defendant has previously used its database of e-mail addresses to populate its two e-mail lists, managed by the legislative and retiree departments. Both of these lists, which have been drawn from defendant's database of e-mail records, are frequently used to disseminate information to members."
Given that the union communicates with its members via email, it cannot refuse a reasonable request to distribute candidate information by email.
In addition, candidates have indicated they are willing to pay any costs associated with compiling the list of email addresses.
The union claimed that "it should not be forced to comply with plaintiffs' request because as a union of postal workers, it has 'a strong affinity for the U.S. Mail' and '[m]any of its members and many of its union leaders oppose the use of e-mail for sending union communications,'" Kollar-Kotelly said. "While the court understands and appreciates defendant's ideological reasons for refusing to distribute plaintiffs' materials via e-mail, Brown makes clear that such internal union policies should not be the focus of the section 401(c) reasonableness inquiry."
The union pointed to numerous other ways the candidates could communicate with voters, including Facebook, Twitter, the union's magazine, and their own websites.
But, "aside from the candidate letter sent to APWU members, the other forms of communication are passive, requiring voters to affirmatively seek out information about candidates. By contrast, e-mail communication would provide an inexpensive way for plaintiffs to reach out to voters, offering an active and arguably more useful form of campaigning. E-mail also offers the opportunity to reach voters who cannot be reached by other means, such as in-person campaigning," Kollar-Kotelly found.
"Depriving plaintiffs' of their statutory right to communicate with voters via e-mail could drastically affect their ability to run an effective campaign," she concluded.