Wednesday, August 8, 2007

An Avoidable Stampede

Many thanks to Bruce Schultz of Local 94, and June for their informative comments—the first comments on our blog.

A brief recap of the issue of merged local delegates is in order. A "merged local" is one created by the integration of two segregated locals; e.g., Local 9-535 in Boston. These merged locals, by virtue of AFM Bylaws, Art. 17 § 4(b), are allowed one extra, African-American delegate at conventions. This bylaw guaranteed that representation of the former African-Americans locals would not disappear after integration.

The Department of Labor (DOL), which was observing the 1989 convention for other reasons, advised the AFM that merged local delegates were illegal, and could not vote in secret-ballot elections. According to the DOL, this was because federal labor law provides that all members are eligible to be delegates, subject to "reasonable qualifications," and a racial qualification is not a reasonable qualification. However, the merged local delegates have voted at every convention since 1989.

At the 2007 convention, prior to the first secret ballot vote, the AFM's general counsel announced that the DOL had contacted the AFM, warning that merged local delegates should not be allowed to vote. Allowing them to vote, the AFM's general counsel said, could prompt the DOL to force a rerun of the elections at the AFM's expense. The convention rejected this, and passed an emergency resolution to allow the merged local delegates to vote.

Criticism of this outcome centers around the fact that the DOL may force a rerun of the 2007 election, an expense the AFM can hardly afford. Bruce Schultz called it a "stampede" in his comment, and the AFM Observer called it "wrong-headed." This criticism is aimed at the delegates who voted for the emergency resolution, who "jumped at the chance to grandstand" on the issue (Schultz).

However, if the AFM is forced to rerun the election, the AFM's administration and counsel are to blame. The issue should have been brought to the attention of the merged locals months (or years) in advance. Who could not predict the reaction of delegates when told that their peers, who had voted with them for decades, would no longer be allowed to vote? Thrusting this choice before the delegates in this manner was careless and frankly, poor judgment.

The strange and regrettable result is that after all these years, African-Americans would have retained more representation at the conventions had they never integrated at all. The AFM once had seventy-three African-American delegates, and once the merged local delegates are no longer allowed to vote, representation will all but vanish.

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