CHICAGO — A Chicago federal judge has rejected allegations by a group of former SEIU Local 73 employees that they were illegally fired.
U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso granted a motion from the Service Employees International Union to dismiss the case, but not without leave to amend as the union requested in its motion.
Granting the motion without allowing plaintiffs leave to amend "would be overly harsh with respect to plaintiffs' breach of contract claims," Alonso said in his 12-page order issued Sept. 27.
Alonzo said the fired union employees had until Oct. 25 to assert their claims for breach of their collective bargaining agreement in an amended complaint, ordered the parties to discuss settlement and set a status hearing date of Oct. 30.
Plaintiffs in the case, identified as Willie English, Remzi Jaos, Ricardo Loza, Brenda Woodall, Bashir B. Nuruddin, Tom Haley, and Leonard Simpson, sued Local 73 and former union trustee Denise Polyac, alleging they had been fired in violation of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
Their firings came after SEIU Local 73 had been taken into trusteeship by the local's international parent union in August 2016. The plaintiffs had been employees and members of the local and of the Service Employees Staff Union, the exclusive collective bargaining representative for Local 73 employees. Some held elected office in SESU.
"[The] plaintiffs disagreed with the policies, direction, and management of Local 73 under Polyac’s trusteeship and, while the trusteeship was still in place, plaintiffs independently formed a slate of candidates to campaign for election to leadership positions in the next Local 73 election," Alonso said in the background portion of his order.
Jaos publicly discussed the campaign, known as "Members Leading Members" or "MLM" in March 2017, to which Polyac responded by threatening to terminate Jaos' employment "unless he desisted and supported the trusteeship," the order said.
Jaos was first to file in June 2017.
In January 2018, the MLM campaign published its slate of candidates, which included the plaintiffs. All were fired "within a month," receiving termination letters that "specifically cited their involvement in the MLM campaign as the reason for their termination," the order said. The plaintiffs subsequently filed their lawsuit.
"Defendants argue that the court should dismiss plaintiffs' LMRDA claims because the LMRDA, for all the protections it provides to 'union members as members,' does not protect appointed union employees, even if they are also union members, against 'discharge from union employment'," the order said.
Local 73 also cited the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Finnegan v. Leu to bolster its argument that it could fire the plaintiffs without violating LMRDA.
The plaintiffs countered that the Finnegan case did not apply because they had been elected officers "not merely appointed employees" and cited their own Supreme Court case, Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association v. Lynn, decided in 1989, the order said.
Alonso found "a flaw in plaintiffs’ reasoning" in that they had not been elected officials in Local 73 at the time of their suspensions and terminations.
"It would contort Lynn beyond recognition to interpret it to prohibit labor union leaders from terminating union employees merely because they happen to be elected officials in some other union," Alonso wrote in his order. "In such a case, the LMRDA’s concerns about 'tensions between union leaders and the rank-and-file members' are attenuated because the terminating leadership and the terminated elected members are in different unions."