Congress passed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) in 1959 to protect union members from corrupt or unfair internal union practices and procedures. The LMRDA sets forth a number of reporting requirements and establishes a union members’ “bill of rights.” Central to the protections of the LMRDA are rules governing the election of union officials and policymakers. This article summarizes the procedures that must be followed for candidacy campaigns and elections. LMRDA requirements establish the minimum protections that must be afforded to union members. Unions may, through their bylaws or constitution, prescribe their own stricter requirements if they so choose.

Campaign and Election Procedures

Who may vote?
Under the LMRDA, most members in good standing, or those who have fulfilled the requirements for membership in the union and have not withdrawn or been suspended, should be eligible to vote in an election for union officials. Some restrictions, however, apply.
A union may set forth reasonable voting eligibility requirements to ensure the integrity of the election results. Some acceptable voting requirements may include:

  • A reasonable period of prior membership (for example, six months or one year)
  • The completion of an apprenticeship program
  • The payment of dues if the employee has had no wages from which dues could be withheld under a check-off program

Some unacceptable voting requirements might include:

  • Requirements permanently excluding a fixed class of members from voting in future elections
  • Dues payment requirements that exclude members whose dues have been checked off, but not yet paid to the union

What notice must be provided?
Unions are required to notify their members of an upcoming election by mail at their last known home addresses at least 15 days prior to the election. The notice must be “reasonably calculated” to inform the member of the election.

How must the voting occur?
Most union official elections must occur pursuant to a secret ballot. This may include the use of balloting or voting machines, but the procedure implemented must ensure that the person expressing his or her choice cannot be identified with the choice expressed. It is the responsibility of the union to ensure that voters do cast their ballots in secret. Thus, a union must provide curtains, screens, or partitions to ensure the privacy of voters. Secret balloting may include the use of a mail referendum. If a mail referendum is used, labor organizations are required to ensure that votes may not be read through the envelopes and that a secret ballot is maintained.

Although local elections must occur through the process of a secret ballot, intermediate or national elections may occur through a representative process. The election to select the delegates to the intermediate or national convention, however, must be made pursuant to a secret ballot. If, after a proper nomination process, all candidates for office are running unopposed, the election need not be held through a secret ballot process.

Candidates for office are entitled by the LMRDA to have election observers at each polling place and at the place where the ballots are actually counted. If ballots are being mailed, observers may be present when the ballots are prepared and mailed and when the returned ballots are received, opened, and counted.

It is a violation of the LMRDA for unions to penalize or discipline their members in any way for exercising their rights to vote or for supporting a particular candidate or candidates. Union members who believe that their rights have been violated must first seek to resolve the problem by following the procedures set forth in their union’s constitution or bylaws. Once those procedures have been followed, members may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor alleging that their union violated the election rules.