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Bullock v. Dressel

January 17, 2006

JAMES C. BULLOCK; JAMES UMBENHAUER; CHARLES L. VOORHIES; RICKEY WARD, APPELLANTS
v.
RICHARD DRESSEL; INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL UNION NO. 164



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (D.C. Civil No. 02-cv-02758). District Judge: The Honorable Dennis M. Cavanaugh.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry, Circuit Judge.

Precedential

Argued: November 16, 2005

Before: BARRY and AMBRO, Circuit Judges, and POLLAK,*fn1 District Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

The District Court granted defendant Local 164's motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claim under § 101(a)(5) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5), their claim for breach of the duty of fair representation, and their state law defamation claims. Plaintiffs, now appellants herein, are four members of other local unions under the umbrella of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("IBEW") who worked as "travelers" at Local 164. The District Court had jurisdiction over the federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. We have appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

We will affirm in part and reverse in part.

Because we have before us only issues of law, we will set forth only those facts necessary to inform decision on the legal issues. In March 2001, Local 164 referred appellants to work for Guzzo Electric at a project at Newark Liberty International Airport. On June 5, after experiencing problems with both Local 164 and Guzzo, appellants and twenty-six of their fellow "travelers" working at the project signed a letter addressed to Lawrence E. Rossa, the Vice-President for IBEW's third district, which encompasses Local 164. In that letter (the "Travelers' letter"), the thirty men expressed their concerns regarding (1) Guzzo's late payment of the workers' benefit contributions; (2) late payments on scheduled pay days; and (3) Local 164's refusal to provide the workers a copy of the collective bargaining agreement.

Rossa received the letter on June 6, 2001 and sent a copy to appellee Richard Dressel, who, as business manager, was responsible for the daily operation of Local 164, including its hiring hall. Dressel responded on June 7, 2001 with an angry letter to the business managers of the local unions where the thirty men were members. In that letter, Dressel first threatened that if any of the thirty men who signed the Travelers' letter quit the Guzzo job, "they will not be referred again from 164 . . . ." Second, "if they do quit," Dressel wrote, "I will fax their names and card numbers to all my sister locals in New Jersey and southern New York and Local 3." Third, Dressel stated that their "actions have now forced me to suspend the referral for ALL traveling Brothers of the IBEW for at least a one month period . . . I will not allow this situation to get out of hand whereby a few trouble makers are attempting to have the 'tail wag the dog'." (App. 750-51.) Finally, Dressel told the business managers, "[p]lease do me a favor. Keep your problem members at home and deal with them. These 'Brothers' are not welcomed here." (App. 750-51.) Attached to this letter was a list of the names and IBEW membership numbers of each signatory to the Travelers' letter.

Appellants claim that Dressel's letter became generally available at their workplace and that they faced hostility from other union members. Additionally, they point out that Local 164's records show the number of its hiring hall's job referrals of travelers dropped off markedly during the month after Dressel's letter. Appellants claim that Local 164 and Dressel engaged in improper discipline in violation of § 101(a)(5) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5), by doing what was threatened in the Dressel letter in retaliation for their letter and by blacklisting them. They claim, as well, that they were defamed by the Dressel letter.

I. LMRDA § 101(a)(5) Claim

Section 101(a)(5) of the LMRDA states that

[n]o member of any labor organization may be fined, suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined except for nonpayment of dues by such organization or by any officer thereof unless such member has been (A) served with written specific charges; (B) given a ...


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