U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority

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File 2: Opinion of Member Wasserman

[ v55 p437 ]

Member Wasserman, dissenting:

      I do not think that the General Counsel's position in this case was substantially justified or that other special circumstances support denial of the fee request. Accordingly, I dissent.

      The General Counsel's prosecution of this case was in a context that militated against such pursuit. The complaint alleged interference with Bradley's rights under sections 7102 and 7116(c) based only upon the disciplinary action being taken during the period of non-compliance with the Authority's reinstatement order. Enforcement of an Authority order is accomplished through the filing of a petition in an appropriate United States court of appeals. 5 U.S.C. § 7123(b). Indeed, that is exactly what the Authority did through its action taken in the 11th Circuit. Once a petition for enforcement is granted, contempt proceedings provide the basis for achieving compliance if a party remains recalcitrant. I do not think there was anything novel or untested about the concept of judicial enforcement that supported the General Counsel's attempt to address the failure to reinstate Bradley in the context of an unfair labor practice case.

      Further, I am not persuaded by the General Counsel's contention that he was raising a new ULP violation of "whether a union can, during the pendency of an order to reinstate an employee, turn around and expel that employee prior to reinstatement." GC Exceptions at 13 n.8. That description sounds to me like an effort to enforce the first ULP reinstatement order. To the extent one views the matter as a true combination of the reinstatement issue with the issue of the propriety of discipline against a non-member, it still does not constitute a justifiable, novel legal position. In my view, it simply combines two questions which did not need answering in the context of this case.

      Even though the Authority had not previously considered whether a union could take discipline against a former member, it is evident that the Statute permits discipline consistent with a union's constitution and Chapter 71. 5 U.S.C.§7116(C). In light of this statutory language and the private sector precedent permitting discipline of non-members, see, e.g., Local 1255, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers v. National Labor Relations Board, 456 F.2d 1214 (5th Cir. 1972), seeking an explicit determination [ v55 p438 ] to the contrary does not appear reasonable. [n1]  In any event, the fact that the Authority had not previously addressed the particular legal arguments raised in this case, does not make the legal theory a "novel" theory worthy of litigation. As noted by the majority, "novelty" does not necessarily create the justificat ion for the denial of fees under the EAJA. See, AFGE Local,495.

      The General Counsel was understandably perturbed by the union's failure to reinstate Bradley immediately upon receipt of the Authority's order, but the second ULP prosecution ignores the institutional prerogatives of the union to pursue disciplinary proceedings consistent with its constitution, so long as it is not for any reason prohibited by the Statute. Since the complaint did not allege that discipline was initiated for any reason prohibited by the Statute, the fact that Bradley was a non-member did not matter and was not really an issue.

      The facts of the case do not present anything that would overcome the frailties of the General Counsel's legal theories, so as to justify pursuit of this complaint. This is not a case where the union was flouting the Authority's order for the purpose of grinding a political axe. Instead, the union was addressing an employee whose tenure as a union officer was marked by financial improprieties, as determined by a DOL investigation and the union disciplinary proceedings. In addition, the litigation of this case ignored the fact that the union had retroactively reinstated the employee, effective until her proper suspension from membership. Notice of the reinstatement was dated December 9, 1993, and the General Counsel issued his complaint on December 15, 1993. Retroactive reinstatement until the date of the suspension provided the basis for the charging party to receive any benefits of union membership to which she would have been entitled, for the period of valid entitlement. [n2]  What more could have been sought, except enforcement, which lies only with the court?

      I do not agree that even if one were to reject the General Counsel's position as not substantially justified, special circumstances warrant the denial of fees. Essentially, the majority is saying that if the union had complied timely, the second case would have been avoided. In contrast, I think the union's compliance, although later than it should have been, obviated the need for the second case. Reinstatement was effected before the complaint was issued in this matter. Once the union had complied with retroactive reinstatement, there was nothing more to be gained by prosecuting the Union for having taken action consistent with its statutory and constitutional rights to discipline members and former members for financial malfeasance while in office. I do not agree that the reinstatement to membership - as opposed to official office - posed less of a threat to the union as an institution. Most unions, mindful of the need to prevent the appearance of condoning corruption, would find a return to membership as troubling as a return to office under the circumstances of this case.

      In sum, the Administrative Law Judge correctly viewed this case as an attempt to enforce the first Authority order through the unfair labor practice proceedings. The Judge's rejection of the General Counsel's position is based on a reasoned assessment of our Statute and relevant precedent. I think the majority errs in taking a contrary view. In addition, the decision to deny fees does not give proper weight to the union's institutional interest and need to respond to a breach of fiduciary duties by a former officer. Contrary to the majority's conclusion, I place a special emphasis on this last point under the general equitable principles that are applied in evaluating any special circumstances. The union's determination to address a fiduciary breach was not only permitted by its constitution, but was itself a fiduciary responsibility. While I do not condone the delay in implementation of the reinstatement order, I disagree with the majority's view that prosecution of the second unfair labor practice complaint was a justifiable response under these circumstances. Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, I would approve the Judge's order to grant fees to the union.

File 1: Authority's Decision in 55 FLRA No. 71
File 2: Opinion of Member Wasserman
File 3: ALJ's Decision

Footnote # 1 for 55 FLRA No. 71 - Opinion of Member Wasserman

   The Authority generally will follow NLRB precedent, when our Statute is similar to the NLRA. U.S. Geological Survey and Caribbean District Office, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 50 FLRA 548, 550 (1995), citing, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Navajo Area Office, Gallup, New Mexico, 45 FLRA 646, 652 (1992). In my view, the language of 5 U.S.C. § 7116(c) and 29 U.S.C. § 158(b)(1) is close enough to have supported the assumption that private sector law would be followed. Both statutes make clear that membership decisions are the union's to make, consistent with its internal procedures. Thus, judicial interpretation of the interplay between membership and discipline in the private sector provides useful guidance to us, and the General Counsel's questioning of the Respondent's rights in this case lacks substantial justification.

Footnote # 2 for 55 FLRA No. 71 - Opinion of Member Wasserman

   There is no claim that the employee's rights in the disciplinary proceedings were diminished as a result of her non-member status. In any event, the Department of Labor has jurisdiction over union disciplinary cases as a standard of conduct matter. 5 U.S.C. § 7120(a)(1); 29 C.F.R. Parts 457 and 458.