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Re: Newly hired business reps, qualifications?
— by iamlistman@yahoo.com iamlistman@yahoo.com
STATEMENT OF HERMAN BENSON, FOUNDER AND FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ASSOCIATION FOR UNION DEMOCRACY, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

 

Mr. Benson. What makes our country strong and secure is its democracy. What makes the union movement strong is the involvement of its membership and union democracy, and whatever undermines union democracy undermines and weakens the labor movement. I guess that's my basic thesis.

I'm a retired machinist and toolmaker by trade, and I'm still a member of a fine union, the United Automobile Workers. I began in 1940, and, over the years, I've worked as a member of the United Rebel Workers, the IUEW, the International Union of Electrical Workers, and for at least 40 years, I have been actively concerned with issues of union democracy. During this time, I've been in touch with tens of thousands of unionists; that's individual rank-and-filers, organized caucuses, and elected officials in most major unions in the United States. These are unionists who have faced union democracy problems or have been engaged in battles against organized corruption or authoritarianism and even organized crime in their unions. It's on the basis of this experience that I tried to assess the label of democracy in unions today and some notion of how to strengthen it.

I help found the Association for Union Democracy in 1969. I served as its executive director for many years. I'm still its secretary treasurer, and our AUD is independent, non-partisan, non-political. We serve as a kind of civil liberties organization for the rights of members inside their unions. We don't advocate any special platform or program for the labor movement except for democracy. We're available to support the rights of any union member regardless of its ideology from right, left, or center against abuse from any official, center, left, or right. Our board of directors includes people who are eminent in the field of union democracy law, including Clyde Summers, who was one of your opening witnesses.

We believe that strong labor unions are an essential element in American democracy. They protect workers against abuse by employers; they defend an American standard of living; they defend seniority rights for workers, for pensions, for unemployment insurance, but to fulfill its role in the most effective manner, the labor movement has to guarantee to its own members the same rights that it advocates in society at large. We believe that union democracy will strengthen the labor movement as a force for democracy in the Nation.

In this connection, we help to enforce the rights written into the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, like the rights of free speech, free press, free assembly, and the LMRDA has been absolutely indispensable in strengthening union democracy since 1959. Before LMRDA, union members were expelled for criticizing their officers, usually on trumped up charges of slander. They could be expelled from the union merely for suing in court or going before authorized Government administrative agencies. They could even be expelled from their unions for circulating petitions within inside their own unions.

Now, all of that is illegal because of the basic rights that are written into Federal law under the LMRDA. When the rights of miners were protected under the LMRDA, they were able to get rid of, for the first time, a literally murderous official, one who was guilty of murdering Jock Yablonski. When the rights of teamsters were protected by the LMRDA, they were able to break the grip of organized crime over their national office. And there are many other illustrations of that same tendency in the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, the Masters and Nation's Pilots and others that I could mention.

However, there is still a long way to go. The law itself has certain weaknesses that have to be corrected, and I would like to enter into the record, if I may, a statement that the AUD had prepared for the Dunlop Commission in which it goes into great detail on how the law for union democracy could be strengthened, and if the chairman permits, I would like to have that entered into the record. Your counsel, Lauren Fuller, has a copy of that statement.

 

Chairman Fawell. Fine, and, without objection, it shall be a part of the record.

 

Mr. Benson. The U.S. Labor Department has been erratic and weak and undependable as an enforcement agency, and the law has hardly even touched the basic problem in the construction trades where it is safer in many unions. It's safer to criticize the President of the United States than it is to criticize your own business agent. In some unions, workers are still black-listed and deprived of work or threatened or beaten for criticizing their union officials. Local police look on violence in the union hall in the same way they used to look upon, and maybe still do, violence in the home, as a family affair.

The Labor Department fails to enforce section 610 of the Labor Management and Reporting Disclosure Act which is supposed to protect union members from violence and the threat of violence for exercising their rights under the law. Section 105 of the Landrum-Griffin Act which provides, very simply, that unions are supposed to inform their members of the provisions of this act. That section is completely, totally, and permanently violated and never enforced. It remains ignored, violated, and unenforced. Not one single union is in compliance with section 105 of the LMRDA.

Many unions still enforce dependence provisions which bar over 90 percent of their members from running for office despite court decisions which would render those provisions void. Public employees' unions which organize workers in State and local governments and represent an increasing section of the labor movement are totally unprotected by the provisions of LMRDA.

Trusteeships are still imposed on various pretexts to suppress critics. The U.S. Labor Department has never challenged a trusteeship until 18 months has elapsed. The law provides that a trusteeship is presumed valid for 18 months. The Labor Department has never challenged a trusteeship until that 18 months has expired and in one instance, the Painters' Union, even when a Federal judge found that a trusteeship had been imposed for the specific purpose of defending a criminal and corrupt official in that union, the Labor Department recommended to the judge that that trusteeship be continued and its validity be presumed for 18 months. The judge overruled the Labor Department; looked at the trusteeship, and ordered a federally supervised election. That was many years ago, but that policy of the Labor Department remains unchanged. I think I'm wondering if it's any clearer here. I don't think the Labor Department has ever in a single instance in its whole history challenged any trusteeship until 18 months have expired.

In conclusion, and I see the red light is on here, I would just like to add one quintessential consideration for your committee: union democracy does mean a strong labor movement, but, conversely, you will never have robust union democracy unless unions are secure and members are aware of that fact. We know that if our country is secure, the Nation's democracy prospers, but when the Nation is under attack, democracy suffers, and, similarly, when union members fear that their unions are under attack and in danger, they will rally around their officers, good or bad, and they are not likely to permit even justified criticism of even the worst officials. In that sense, impediments to strong unionism will surely become impediments to union democracy. Thank you.

[The statement of Mr. Benson follows:]

STATEMENT OF HERMAN BENSON, Founder and Former Executive Director Association for Union Democracy, BRROKLYN, NEW YORK - SEE APPENDIX C

[The information follows:]

ASSOCIATION FOR UNION DEMOCRACY DOCUMENT PREPARED FOR THE DUNLOP COMMISSION - SEE APPENDIX D