All working people should pay attention to the egregious assault on union democracy happening in the Carpenters Union's Pacific North West Regional Council, which covers all the Carpenter's Locals in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, and Montana.
Turmoil had been simmering in the Regional Council for quite some time, since century-old Carpenters locals throughout the state of Oregon and South West Washington were shut down and merged into a "mega-local," which was done in a way that restricted the democracy previously enjoyed by the smaller locals.
For example, rural carpenters were made to drive hours to attend a union meeting if they wanted a voice in their union, since their local office was closed. Statewide decisions were centralized without the ability of carpenters to participate in the decision making process on a local level. The connectedness that Carpenters felt to their union was removed by hundreds of miles; their personal investment in their union was forcibly made impersonal.
The "mega-local" phenomenon has been a virus running throughout organized labor for years, creating the above, predictable effects. The reform-minded Carpenters saw this happening in their union and fought back against it.
The accused Carpenters used these rights by campaigning and winning elections in their union. Unfortunately for their accusers, a "get out the vote" phone bank is not against any Carpenter rule, nor against federal labor law.
Staff from the Regional Council falsely accused the convicted carpenters of "stealing" the Carpenter's membership list - with no evidence - and proceeded to slander them to the membership through a website and numerous mailings, calling the accused "thieves" and "liars," unacceptable behavior in any union.
After losing the election the displaced leadership complained to the Carpenters International and a second set of elections was then organized. The reform Carpenters won that election by a larger margin. So now the candidates they defeated are trying to get them out of office using internal charges, based on the phone banking "scandal." The LMRDA does not allow unions to target activists using vague accusations like "causing dissension."
Dissent simply means disagreement, which is perfectly normal and natural in every union, which is why there are federally regulated union elections to express this dissent. Also, "dissent" is an overly broad concept that, in this case, infringed upon the Carpenter's federally protected free speech rights, making the convictions illegal.
The lottery system could not have been used to select the new trial committee. One third of the lottery pool consisted of delegates from Oregon, and the trial committee had zero Oregon delegates: there is a 1.2 percent likelihood that this could happen in a lottery. The hand picked jury contained no Oregon delegates because the convicted Carpenters were Oregonians.
The injustices committed against these carpenters negatively affects all unions, since such undemocratic practices look horrible to the general public, and provides anti-union groups with easy ammunition.
The convictions also weaken the carpenters union directly, since many of their hardest fighting pro-union members are members without membership rights. A weakened Carpenters union consequently weakens labor as a whole.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker and trade unionist. He can reached at Email address removed