Background and Scope
In 1959, Congress passed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) with the stated purpose of eliminating and preventing improper practices on the part of labor organizations, employers, labor relations consultants, and their officers and representatives. Congress stated in the LMRDA that investigations had revealed a number of instances of breach of trust, corruption, disregard of the rights of individual employees, and other major problems in the realm of labor relations.
The LMRDA was designed to curb those problems by guaranteeing certain rights to labor union members, by setting forth union official election procedures, and by establishing detailed reporting and disclosure requirements for labor organizations and their affiliates. This article summarizes the rights provided to labor union members through the so-called “bill of rights” of the LMRDA. These rights are guaranteed to members of private sector labor unions and unions that serve United States Postal Service employees. The LMRDA does not apply to unions that serve other federal employees or to unions representing state or local government employees.
The LMRDA specifies that every member of a labor union is to have equal rights and privileges within the union with respect to nominating candidates, voting in elections, attending membership meetings, and participating in the business of the union meetings. These rights, however, may be subject to reasonable rules and regulations set forth in the union’s bylaws or constitution. For example, a union may reasonably require a person to have been a union member for at least six months before voting for union officials. It may not, however, reasonably allow some short-term members to vote while denying other short-term members that right.
Freedom of Speech and Assembly
The LMRDA establishes that every labor union member is to have the right to meet and assemble freely with other members and to express their opinion and views regarding union official candidates for election at labor organization meetings. These rights, while guaranteed by the LMRDA, are subject to reasonable rules regarding the conduct of meetings.
Dues, Initiation Fees, and Assessments
The LMRDA provides that dues and assessments upon labor union members may not be increased without a majority vote, taken by secret ballot, at a special membership meeting or through a membership referendum. Votes regarding dues for national organizations may be cast by elected representatives of local union members.
Protection of the Right to Sue
Labor unions may not limit their members’ rights to institute a court action against the union. They may, however, install internal procedures or remedies that a member must pursue before initiating a court action.
Safeguards against Improper Disciplinary Action
Members of labor organizations may not be disciplined, except for nonpayment of dues, unless they have been served with written charges, given a reasonable time to prepare a defense, and afforded a full and fair hearing.
Enforcement of the Rights Guaranteed by the LMRDA
Union members who believe that unions have violated their rights under the LMRDA may, after following any required internal procedures, file a private civil action against the labor union in federal court. The Secretary of Labor does not have the authority to enforce the bill of rights guaranteed in the LMRDA. The injured union member must bring such actions directly.