Fiduciary Obligations in the Internal Political Affairs of Labor Unions Under
Section 501(a) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act
27 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2010
Date Written: 1977
Federal courts have not agreed upon the appropriate scope of their authority to judge whether union officials have violated their fiduciary obligations under § 501(a) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. The Second Circuit restricts application of § 501(a) to union affairs involving money and property; the Eighth Circuit considers fiduciary obligations in a wide range of union activities. The statute itself mandates that the duty of all officers be determined "taking into account the special problems and functions of a labor organization . . . ," but few courts have recognized this caveat in evaluating the conduct of union officials. Both the Second and Eighth Circuits apply inflexible standards to the conduct of officers of all labor organizations, irrespective of their characteristics. Per se reasoning whereby courts hold certain types of acts by union officials conclusively violative of § 501(a) has emerged. This article proposes a flexible approach to the application of § 501(a) and examines the proposal in the context of four recurrent patterns of internal union politics. The article concludes that courts should not deem acts of union officials per se violative of § 501(a) where union political matters are involved, but rather should examine the challenged conduct in the context of particular circumstances. Judicial management of union internal political affairs is no better than the evils which § 501(a) was designed to ameliorate.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation