August 20, 2014

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Labor Department suit challenges union election

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Steelworkers Local 1104 alleging the union violated labor laws in its latest election for officers.

As a result, the federal agency asked the federal court to order a new election.

U.S. Attorney Renee Bacchus filed the suit on behalf of the Department of Labor. In the filing, Bacchus said the election should be voided because the local chapter used a bylaw that resulted in 95 percent of the membership to be declared ineligible to hold office.

It likely skewed the nomination process and affected the outcome of the election, the lawsuit said.

The April 3 election was for the offices of president, vice president, financial secretary, recording secretary, treasurer, three trustee positions, guide, inside guard and outside guard. One day after the election, a union member protested the election with his local chapter.

Dennis Hamilton, who filed the protest, has been working at Republic Steel in Lorain for 39 years. He said a number of people were running until the local union decided to apply a bylaw of the United Steelworkers International constitution that requires candidates to have attended one-third of their local union’s meetings during the 24-month period prior to the election.

At a meeting a month before the election, a majority of local members voted to apply the bylaw and nearly all of the races became uncontested because challengers were deemed ineligible, Hamilton said.

“Our union has not supported that bylaw for the last three elections,” Hamilton said.

The local chapter denied Hamilton’s appeal and, when he took his argument to the international organization, the local decision was upheld. That led Hamilton to take his grievance to the Department of Labor, which started an investigation.

The Labor Department’s lawsuit said the investigation found probable case to believe a labor violation had taken place with the election by “denying members in good standing the right to be nominated and run for office when (the union) enforced an unreasonable meeting attendance rule, which disqualified over 95 percent of its members.”

Daniel Voorhees, U.S. Steelworkers Local 1104 president, did not return calls. An attorney for the union was not listed.

The union represents about 1,200 workers at U.S. Steel’s Lorain Tubular facility and at Republic Steel in Lorain.

The Department of Labor is seeking a judgment to force a new election under its supervision.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.