Dismissal of Electrician's Retaliation, Breach Claims Against IBEW Local Upheld by 1st Cir.

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By Jay-Anne Casuga

Oct. 28 — A member of an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local in Boston failed to plausibly allege that the union violated federal labor laws by breaching its duty of fair representation when it made its hiring hall nonexclusive and by retaliating against him for complaining about the change, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled Oct. 24.

Affirming the dismissal of Brendon Lydon's complaint for failure to state claims under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the First Circuit found no fair representation breach by IBEW Local 103. The court rejected Lydon's argument that the local's decision to negotiate a work solicitation system with the Boston chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association was impermissibly arbitrary because the international IBEW's rules required locals to run exclusive hiring halls.

The court said Lydon offered no authority to indicate that a local's decision not to follow its international's preferred referral system is unreasonable, or that the new system discriminates among members.

In addition, it said Lydon lacks a retaliation claim under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act because he failed to show he was disciplined by the union because of his complaints.

Although Lydon had issues with a union official regarding his placement at the bottom of a referral list, he didn't show he was punished by the union as “a collective entity,” as required by the LMRDA.

Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Jeffrey R. Howard and Joseph N. Laplante.

Local Didn't Breach Duty of Fair Representation

The First Circuit explained that the “judge-made” duty of fair representation “requires a union to serve its members ‘honestly and in good faith and without invidious discrimination or arbitrary conduct.'”

A union's conduct is arbitrary, the court added, if it “is so far outside a wide range of reasonableness…as to be irrational.”

In the present case, Lydon argued that Local 103 acted arbitrarily by negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the Boston NECA chapter to turn the union's exclusive, or seniority-based referral-only, hiring hall into a nonexclusive hiring hall that allowed members to solicit work directly from Boston NECA employers. Lydon contended that the IBEW requires locals to run exclusive hiring halls.

Unpersuaded, the appeals court observed that a hiring hall “is a matter of negotiation between the parties” and judicial review is “highly deferential” to a union's bargaining judgment.

“[Lydon] cites no authority indicating that a local decision not to follow its international's preferred referral system falls outside the generous range of reasonableness it has to strike a balance between competing interests when bargaining with employers,” the court said.

“[Lydon] cites no authority indicating that a local decision not to follow its international's preferred referral system falls outside the generous range of reasonableness it has to strike a balance between competing interests when bargaining with employers,” the court said.

In addition, the court found no merit to Lydon's argument that Local 103's new solicitation system arbitrarily discriminates against members.

The system, it said, is “open to every member” and members “can use either the solicitation system or the seniority system or both.”

Court Finds No LMRDA Retaliation

Furthermore, the First Circuit ruled that Lydon failed to plausibly allege a retaliation claim under the LMRDA, which prohibits unions from disciplining members for exercising any rights they are entitled to.

Here, the court said, Lydon presented no evidence that Local 103 disciplined him in its official capacity because of his complaints about the new hiring hall scheme.

Lydon contended that a union official misused his position to keep Lydon at the bottom of a referral list in retaliation for his complaints.

But the court said that “if every union official's action constituted union action simply because of his position, then the distinction between ‘ad hoc retaliation by individual union officers' and discipline ‘imposed by the union as an entity' would vanish.”

Burns & Levinson represented Lydon. Segal Roitman represented Local 103.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Lydon_v_Elec_Workers_IBEW_Local_103_No_132009_2014_BL_300289_1st_.