(CN) – The United Transportation Union violated the free speech rights of officers whose membership was revoked following a merger with the Sheet Metal Workers Association, The 6th Circuit as ruled.
The circuit upheld a decision by a federal judge, who ordered the union to give the six officers their jobs back.
“The threat of irreparable harm to plaintiffs, including the potential chilling effect on the guarantees of free speech and the right to sue … is clear cut and strongly weighs in favor of granting preliminary injunctive relief,” Judge Eugene Siler wrote for the three-judge panel. “The public interest weighs in favor of protecting plaintiffs’ individual rights over noninterference with the internal management of the United Transportation Union.”
After the transportation union proposed a merger with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, union members filed suit, claiming the merger was unlawful.
John Babler, Victor Baffoni, James Cumby, John Fitzgerald and Constantino Iannone all supported the merger. They intervened in the lawsuit when Malcolm Futhey took over as the transportation union’s president, believing he was aligned with plaintiffs against the merger.
After the courts declared the merger lawful, union officials kicked out the six officers for violating union rules and failing to “fully support” Futhey.
“Each of you knew or should have known that taking a position in federal court contrary to the president of our union and dealing directly with another union without the consent of the president went far beyond your free speech rights or ability to dissent,” the board told the six men after an internal union trial.
But the 6th Circuit said the transportation union’s action violated the free-speech and right-to-sure provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
“The executive board’s reasoning that, as [transportation union] officers, plaintiffs had a special duty to support the policies of the international president even if they might have personally opposed those policies,” was unreasonable, Siler wrote.
Framing the dispute as a “power struggle,” Siler said it was “unfair and unreasonable to employ disciplinary proceedings to resolve a fairly close question regarding the proper allocation of power among [transportation union] international officers.”
“This is the type of abuse of power by union leadership that the [Act] was passed to remedy,” the judge concluded.