11/1/07

Irregularities cited in Teamster election

A battle for the presidency of Teamster Local 614 in Pontiac remains undecided and could wind up being decided by the National Labor Relations Board. The unofficial tally from last week's vote shows incumbent Earl Walker leading challenger Joe Bane by 20 votes, 437-417.

However, approximately 54 challenged ballots, which could decide the election, remain uncounted because of a dispute over dues. Billie Hawkins, a Local 614 steward and candidate for recording secretary on the slate headed by Bane, told The Oakland Press she filed a complaint with the NLRB against both her employer, First Student, a school bus company based in Pontiac, and Local 614.

"In September 2007, the employer intentionally refrained from deducting union dues from the payroll of employees who had signed dues check off authorizations for the purpose of assisting incumbent union candidates in an ongoing internal union election by disenfranchising employees as voters," the complaint filed by Hawkins said.

Under Teamsters rules, members have to have fully paid all dues in order to vote in an internal union election.

"They're school bus drivers. They're off every summer. The union has also been able to work out in the past so they're not disenfranchised," said Barbara Harvey, the Detroit lawyer representing Hawkins and Bane.

"The union, however, never sent them ballots," Harvey said. "Then none of the ballots were counted," which in itself was irregular.

"The ballots have been preserved, and they should be counted," Harvey said. "There were problems. The Bane slate is demanding these ballots be counted."

The Bane slate also has filed an appeal with the Teamsters Joint Council 43, and if the Joint Council and the NLRB don't deal with the issues, her clients are prepared to ask the U.S. Department of Labor to set aside the results and rerun the election, Harvey said.

Hawkins said she didn't know exactly how many drivers from First Student sent in ballots.

"But I do know most of them had to be requested and all were challenged," she said.

Both sides are operating under the assumption that the challenged ballots, if counted, could tip the election to the Bane slate, she added.

The NLRB has assigned the complaint to a case officer for investigation, according to a letter from the board's regional director to Harvey.

Meanwhile, Walker declined to comment on the postelection investigation. However, he did confirm the outcome wasn't settled yet.

"I'm not prepared to do an interview. These issues aren't resolved yet," Walker said.

A slate including Hawkins defeated a slate headed by Walker in 2006 in the election for delegates to the Teamsters Convention.

At the time, Walker's slate was pledged to support Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, who is officially a member of Local 614.

Hawkins said after her victory last year she was recruited by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to serve as a part-time organizer. The union is actively trying to recruit more school bus drivers into the Teamsters, she said.

(theoaklandpress.com)

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