We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
If a new federal lawsuit is to be believed, Metro’s union has organizational problems like the the transit agency itself.
NBC4 reports that the U.S. Department of Labor has filed a civil suit against Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which comprises the majority of Metrorail, Metrobus, and maintenance workers. The suit alleges that the union conducted an improper election of its leadership in 2015, which resulted in the reappointment of President Jackie Jeter and the appointments of more than a dozen other officers.
Among the complaint’s allegations against ATU 689: “fail[ing] to mail proper election notice to all members at their last known home address at least fifteen days prior to election”; “fail[ing] to conduct its election in accordance with its bylaws and the International constitution when it denied individuals—including Harry Johnson, Ozzie Andrews, and Glenn Jarret—who were eligible for candidacy…the right to be nominated and run for office”; “fail[ing] to apply its candidacy qualifications in a uniform manner”; and “permitting ineligible members to vote and failing to count the ballots of eligible members.” ATU Local 689 has more than 12,000 members. DOL is calling for a new, monitored election vote.
City Desk has reached out to DOL and ATU 689, including to Jeter herself. We’ll update this post when we receive comment.
The lawsuit comes at an inopportune time for the union, as its four-year contact with Metro is set to expire on June 30.
Update 3:38 p.m.: DOL declined to provide further comment. ATU 689 still has not returned requests for comment.
Update 6:15 p.m.: In an interview with City Desk, Jeter said she had neither read the full suit nor received a summons from the U.S. District Court for Maryland—where ATU 689 is based—that requires the local to respond within 21 days or the results of the Dec. 2 election will be invalidated. Still, she said ATU 689 would answer the complaint within that period, adding that DOL is “misinterpreting” the local’s bylaws and the larger union’s constitution in regards to officer elections.
“Every time that I’ve been elected, I’ve been elected by the members,” Jeter, now in her fourth term as president, said. “And the members reelected me this time. Consciously, nobody did anything wrong…If it boils down to the fact that we have to have another election, then we’ll have another election. But the union does not feel that we should just roll over because the Department of Labor wants to play boogeyman and bully.”
Following the December vote, four members of the union, three of whom had been presidential candidates, challenged the manner in which the election had been conducted, according to the lawsuit. Then, during the first week of January, ATU’s membership “voted to conduct a rerun election for all offices.” Jeter appealed that motion in a Jan. 29 letter to ATU International President Lawrence Hanley. She says she did so because her critics had “crowded the [union] hall with people just to vote to have a new election” earlier that month.
“I know for a fact that the hall was crowded with people who did not even know and did not even listen to what the challenges were about,” Jeter contends. She adds that DOL “overstepped their grounds and got involved in the process before the international could even rule” on her appeal.
Jeter said she and ATU 689’s leadership cooperated with federal investigators and met with about half a dozen DOL officials in early May. At the time, she said, ATU 689 told them it had properly followed the language of its bylaws and the union’s constitution concerning eligibility, which requires candidates to be in “good standing” and have paid dues.
Asked to respond to the specific allegations in the suit, Jeter said, “I’m not going to do what the Department of Labor has done…I’m not going to litigate this in the media.”
She added that she expects the case to disrupt negotiations with Metro pegged to the upcoming expiration of the four-year contract between parties: “Anytime you have distractions of this kind it interferes, consciously or subconsciously.”