Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS)

U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Labor-Management Standards
Division of Enforcement
Washington, DC 20210
(202) 693-0143 Fax: (202) 693-1343
June 9, 2011


This Statement of Reasons is in response to your complaints filed on February 15 and
22, 2011, alleging that a violation of Title IV of the Labor-Management Reporting and
Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA),,29 U.S.C. §§ 481-484, as made applicable to federal
sector unions by 29 C.F.R. § 458.29 and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, 5 U.S.C. §
7120, occurred in connection with the American Federation of Government Employees
(AFGE) Council 53 election held on November 9, 2010.

The Department of Labor conducted an investigation of your allegations. As a result of
the investigation, the Department has concluded that there was no violation of the

You both submitted the same allegation to the Department. You alleged that candidates
for the office of president and treasurer were retirees and therefore ineligible to run for
office. Your allegation is based on your interpretation of the language in the union’s
constitution that a candidate must be a Veterans Affairs “employee.” The applicable
language of Article X, Section 3, states the following:

To be qualified as a candidate for Council office, the candidate must be a
member in good standing of a constituent local, must have been a member for
one year of an AFGE local, immediately preceding the closing of the nomination
process, and must not be a member in any labor organization not affiliated with
the AFL-CIO. Any Veterans Affairs employee who is a member of a constituent local
shall be eligible to be nominated as a candidate and to hold office in this Council.

(emphasis added).

Page 2 of 3

Section 401(e) of the Act provides, among other things, that every member in good
standing shall be eligible to be a candidate and to hold office subject to “reasonable
qualifications uniformly imposed” and that covered elections shall be conducted in
accordance with the constitution and bylaws of the union in so far as they are not
inconsistent with the provisions of the Act. The Department accepts “the interpretation
consistently placed on a union’s constitution by the responsible union official or
governing body […] unless the interpretation is clearly unreasonable.” 29 C.F.R. § 452.3.

Union members are current employees and retirees of the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA). The union also accepts non-VA employees and retirees as members. The
union has interpreted the stated provision to exclude non-VA employee members from
office, but not to exclude VA retirees. Retirees may maintain membership in the union
and pay full dues. Because the applicable constitutional clause is unclear and does not
specifically reference retirees, the Department reviewed the history of the clause and the
union’s past practice concerning retirees to determine if the union’s interpretation of the
provision was clearly unreasonable.

The Department found that the clause was added in 1985 during the union’s
convention. Upon interviewing a union member in attendance at the 1985 convention,
the Department found that the eligibility of non-VA members serving as officers was
debated at some length due to the concern that members could be represented by
officers who had never worked for the VA. The member present at the convention
stated to the Department that the clause was added to exclude non-VA employees from
running for and holding office. At the time, the issue of retired VA employees’
eligibility for office was also discussed on the floor. It was decided that both current
and retired VA employees were eligible to run for office. Under the union’s
interpretation of the provision, approximately 2,600 retired VA employee members of
the union are considered eligible to run for and hold office.

The union also has a clear past practice of allowing all VA retirees to serve as officers
for over the past 25 years. From as early as the first election after the rule was drafted,
the union has allowed retirees to serve as officers. For example, Council
President during the 1985 convention, retired in 1987 while serving as president and
was then re-elected in 1989. No protests were ever filed for his re-election and his
eligibility was not questioned. President Alma Lee and Treasurer Dorothy Jefferson are
in fact retirees. However, both officers have served as officers from 2001 to the present
while retired and did so without challenge to their eligibility. Thus, the Department has
determined that the union’s interpretation of the qualifications for nomination and
candidacy are sufficiently reasonable. Therefore, there is no violation of the Act.

Page 3 of 3

It is concluded from the analysis set forth above that the investigation failed to disclose
any violation of the Act. Accordingly, we are closing our file on this matter.


Patricia Fox
Chief, Division of Enforcement

John Gage, National President
American Federation of Government Employees
80 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Alma Lee, President
AFGE Council 53
1970 Roanoke Blvd., Building 761
Salem, VA 24153

Beverly Dankowitz, Acting Associate Solicitor
Civil Rights and Labor-Management