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Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Concerning Union Officer Elections

Introduction:

This list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) relates to union officer elections, which are governed by the provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The LMRDA applies to unions in the private sector as well as unions composed of employees of the United States Postal Service. Most unions composed of Federal government employees are governed by provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) which incorporates many of the provisions of the LMRDA.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

I am concerned about the fairness of our upcoming union officer election. Can the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) monitor our election?

Does DOL/OLMS have jurisdiction over all union elections?

Does a vacancy in union office require a new election?

Are there any requirements that apply when a union issues a notice of nomination to its members for an upcoming union officer election?

Can my union require that I be present at the nominations meeting to be nominated for office?

I want to mail campaign literature to the members. May I get a copy of the union's membership list?

Can my union refuse to distribute my campaign literature because it doesn't have enough staff?

May I distribute my campaign literature to only a part of the union's membership?

Can a union be required to distribute a candidate's campaign literature to members via e-mail, as opposed to using their postal address?

What if the union has concerns about the confidentiality of their members e-mail addresses?

What if the union's list of members' e-mail addresses is incomplete?

Must the union create a system to distribute e-mails if one does not exist?

How much can the union charge a candidate to distribute campaign material by regular mail or e-mail?

Is there a limit on how often a candidate can send out campaign material via e-mail versus regular mail?

Is the LMRDA prohibition on the use of employer funds to promote candidates in union officer elections limited to employers who employ members of our union?

Is my union required to mail me a notice of election or can it be posted on our union bulletin board instead?

Can the ballot package serve as the election notice in a mail ballot election?

Can my union have only one polling site if our membership is widely disbursed?

Can my union deny me the right to vote if my employer has failed to timely send my dues to the union?

Can I have more than one observer during a union officer election and what parts of the election process are they allowed to watch?

Can observers record or write down the names of those voting?

How long does my union need to keep the ballots after our election?

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Q1. I am concerned about the fairness of our upcoming union officer election. Can the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) monitor our election?

A1. No. DOL cannot monitor a union's officer election on request. The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) within DOL becomes involved in the union officer election process only after receiving a properly filed complaint from a member of the union. Generally, a union member cannot go straight to OLMS with a complaint. The member must first take his or her complaint to the union.

The LMRDA requires a member to exhaust available internal union remedies or to pursue those remedies for three months without receiving a final decision from the union. When either of those requirements is met, a member may then file a complaint with OLMS. There is a time deadline for filing complaints with OLMS. The complaint must be received by OLMS within one calendar month of the date on which the member received the union's final decision or within the fourth calendar month from the date on which the member filed their complaint with the union if they have not received a final decision by that time. When a complaint is properly filed with OLMS, an investigation is conducted. If OLMS agrees that a violation occurred that may have affected the outcome of the election, OLMS may enter into an agreement with the union to supervise a re-run election; or, if the union does not agree to a supervised election, OLMS will file suit in Federal District Court to request a supervised re-run election.

Q2. Does DOL/OLMS have jurisdiction over all union elections?

A2. No. OLMS has jurisdiction over regularly scheduled officer elections in private and federal sector unions, including union officer elections of postal service employees. In most instances, unions representing exclusively state, municipal or local government employees are not under the jurisdiction of DOL/OLMS. If in doubt, contact OLMS to see if the union is covered by the LMRDA. If the union is not under OLMS jurisdiction, you may wish to contact the state department of labor to learn whether there are state laws governing these unions.

Q3. Does a vacancy in union office require a new election?

A3. A vacancy in office would require a new election only if the union's constitution and bylaws mandates that an election be held. Otherwise, the vacancy may be filled by appointment, automatic succession, or by a special election. Such a special election does not need to conform to all the provisions of Title IV of the LMRDA. However, the LMRDA section 504 prohibitions on certain persons holding office would still apply. Also, civil enforcement of the bill of rights provisions contained in Title I of the LMRDA (such as members' equal rights to nominate candidates and vote in union elections) would still apply.

Q4. Are there any requirements that apply when a union issues a notice of nomination to its members for an upcoming union officer election?

A4. Unions are required to give timely notice of the opportunity to make nominations for union office. The notice must be reasonably calculated to inform all members of the offices to be filled in the election and to provide the date, time, place, and form (for example, orally, in writing or by petition) for submitting nominations.

Q5. Can my union require that I be present at the nominations meeting to be nominated for office?

A5. A requirement that members be present at the nomination meeting to be nominated for office might be considered a violation of the LMRDA in the absence of a provision for an alternative method of nomination.

Q6. I want to mail campaign literature to the members. May I get a copy of the union's membership list?

A6.You have a right to inspect the membership list. The right to inspect does not include the right to copy the list, although it does include the right to compare the union's list with a personal list. In addition, a union must refrain from discrimination in favor of or against any candidate with respect to the use of membership lists. Therefore, if any candidate is given or uses the membership list, then all candidates must be offered use of the list. A union is required to comply with all reasonable requests of a candidate that the union distribute the candidate's campaign literature to the membership. The distribution is at the candidate's expense.

Q7. Can my union refuse to distribute my campaign literature because it doesn't have enough staff?

A7. A union may not refuse to distribute campaign literature on the basis that it has a small staff that cannot handle such distribution for all candidates. The union should hire additional staff to satisfy the request and charge the candidate for the costs of distribution. There is no requirement, however, that a union distribute campaign literature free of charge for a candidate who cannot bear such expense.

Q8. May I distribute my campaign literature to only a part of the union's membership?

A8. A union must honor reasonable requests to distribute campaign literature to only a portion of the membership if it is practicable.

Q9. Can a union be required to distribute a candidate's campaign literature to members via e-mail, as opposed to using their postal address?

A9. Other than by mail, there is no prescribed manner in which unions must distribute campaign literature. Likewise, unions are not required to provide candidates access to all methods of distribution that may be available to the union. Generally, if the candidate's request for an alternative method of distributing campaign literature is a reasonable one, the union is required to make the distribution. Accordingly, OLMS advises unions to comply with a candidate's reasonable request to distribute campaign literature to the membership through e-mail if the union uses e-mail to disseminate information to its members.

Q10.What if the union has concerns about the confidentiality of their members e-mail addresses?

A10.If a union is concerned about confidentiality, then distribution should take place without revealing members' e-mail addresses. The union is entitled to protect the confidentiality of members' names and e-mail addresses. Widely available, commercial e-mail applications permit distribution where no recipient can see the identity of the other recipients.

Q11. What if the union's list of members' e-mail addresses is incomplete?

A11. Unlike maintaining the membership list, a union is not required to create e-mail records that it does not presently have to accommodate a candidate's request. If the e-mail list of members is incomplete, the union should advise the requesting candidate of how many e-mail addresses it has and let the candidate decide if he or she still wants to use it.

Q12. Must the union create a system to distribute e-mails if one does not exist?

A12. No. Unions are not required to create systems to accommodate a candidate's request for e-mail distribution.

Q13. How much can the union charge a candidate to distribute campaign material by regular mail or e-mail?

A13. Candidates must pay the cost of distribution. Thus, the union is entitled to charge the candidate for staff time required to send campaign messages, for expenses incurred in hiring temporary staff/contractors, or for any other costs associated with the distribution of the campaign material.

Q14. Is there a limit on how often a candidate can send out campaign material via e-mail versus regular mail?

A14. A request to distribute campaign material using either e-mail or regular mail is the same: the union must comply with all reasonable requests and the candidate must bear the cost.

Q15. Is the LMRDA prohibition on the use of employer funds to promote candidates in union officer elections limited to employers who employ members of our union?

A15. No. The prohibition on the use of employer funds applies to all employers, not just to those who employ members of your union.

Q16. Is my union required to mail me a notice of election or can it be posted on our union bulletin board instead?

A16.The union must mail the notice of election to members' last known home addresses. Posting on a bulletin board, or even delivering by hand, will not satisfy the requirement. Also, the notice must be sent to every member, not just to those members eligible to vote.

Q17. Can the ballot package serve as the election notice in a mail ballot election?

A17. Yes. If an election is conducted by mail and no separate notice is mailed to the members, the ballot packages must be mailed no later than 15 days prior to the date when the ballots must be mailed back in order to be counted.

Q18. Can my union have only one polling site if our membership is widely disbursed?

A18. The right to vote implies a reasonable opportunity to vote which may require setting up multiple polling places, using a mail ballot, or providing absentee ballots.

Q19.Can my union deny me the right to vote if my employer has failed to timely send my dues to the union?

A19.No. A member in good standing whose dues have been checked off by their employer may not be disqualified from voting because of delay in payment.

Q20. Can I have more than one observer during a union officer election and what parts of the election process are they allowed to watch?

A20.Candidates must be permitted to have observers at the polls and at the counting of the ballots. This encompasses every phase of the election (for example, preparation and mailing of the ballots, receipt by the counting agency, checking voter eligibility, opening and counting of ballots, etc.). If the count or polling is at more than one location, the candidate may have observers at each location. Likewise, if the count is at more than one table, a candidate can have as many observers as necessary to observe the actual counting of ballots.

Q21.Can observers record or write down the names of those voting?

A21. Observers may note the names of those voting in order to ascertain whether ineligible persons voted.

Q22.How long does my union need to keep the ballots after our election?

A22. Ballots and all other records of the election (including voided ballots, tally sheets, voter lists, returned ballot envelopes, secret ballot envelopes, etc.) must be preserved for one year. The responsibility to maintain the records rests with the election officials identified in the constitution, or, if none, then the union's secretary. If there are outstanding protests that have not been resolved, the union should maintain the election records until the appeal process, including appeals to OLMS, have been completed.

 

Last Updated: 11/26/07