Lawsuit: KC labor union botched leadership election, swayed members on Facebook

Problems and questions at Teamsters Local 41's elections last November triggered protests from two slates of losing candidates.
Problems and questions at Teamsters Local 41's elections last November triggered protests from two slates of losing candidates.

The federal government has taken the rare step of suing Teamsters Local 41 over its November elections, citing ballot problems and possibly improper efforts to sway the outcome.

Local 41 President Ralph Stubbs and his slate of candidates won re-election over two rival slates, each of which protested the election. U.S. Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta sued in federal court to seek a re-run under federal supervision.

Local 41 did not respond to a request for comment.

At issue is whether the outcome at Teamsters Local 41 was changed by mishaps in the process of collecting members' ballots or a post on the union’s Facebook page that promoted Stubbs’ candidacy.

Washington brought only four such lawsuits last year out of 87 election complaints that the Department of Labor investigated, according to the Association of Union Democracy in New York.

"They almost always win," said Ken Paff, national organizer for the independent Teamsters for a Democratic Union.

More often, the union and government reach agreement on new elections, which they did 20 times last year, or the Department of Labor determines that there is not enough reason to hold new elections, which happened 63 times last year.

The lawsuit claimed that one union member supporting Stubbs posted a message to the group's informational Facebook page and included “#Stubbs” in support of his candidacy.

"The post remained active on the site for approximately two-and-a-half hours until it was taken down after receiving complaints from the other slates," the lawsuit said.

Later that day, one candidate for secretary-treasurer, was denied the ability to post to the Facebook page because his post was "viewed as campaigning."

Local 41 also is accused of bungling the voting process itself. A company contracted by the union incorrectly printed the ballot return envelopes, according to the lawsuit.

"This envelope problem resulted in all return ballot envelopes being delayed and many voted ballots being returned back to members," the lawsuit says.

The union posted about the mishap on Facebook and asked members to draw a line through their return address and mail the ballots again.

But 163 ballots came in after the Nov. 16, 2017, election cut off date.

"Despite the instruction to cross out the return address, 23 ballots were voided for having illegible names and addresses," the lawsuit said.

The union was able to identify 19 of them.

Complaints about the ballot problems, Facebook posts and other issues were investigated by the trial board of the Teamsters Joint Council 56.

The ballot envelopes were a problem, the council’s seven-page report said, but there was no “inference of fraud” or evidence that it impacted the election.

Stubbs won by 222 votes, compared with the 163 late ballots, the council noted. It also said the 1,905 ballots received were similar to previous elections. There were 2,119 ballots counted when Stubbs first won office in 2014.

The Joint Council found no merit in most of the complaints, including one bumper sticker it said was in “poor taste” and a purported agreement with shipping company UPS to support Stubbs.

The UPS issue focused on two signs supporting Stubbs at UPS. The council’s report said they were on union members’ trucks parked in the company’s lot and "window signs" supporting other slates were on other vehicles.

There was no “credible evidence presented of collusion between the Stubbs Team 41 slate and UPS,” the report said.

As a remedy, the department wants the union to void the last election and conduct a new one at its own expense. The case was assigned to an outside mediator, according to a court filing.