United States Resolves Voting Rights Lawsuit Against IBEW Local 98 Alleging Interference, Intimidation in 2020 Union Election

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams this week announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has resolved its civil suit on behalf of the U.S. Secretary of Labor against Local 98, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (“Local 98”) for violating the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (“LMRDA”). In the settlement, Local 98 has agreed to conduct its next nominations and election of officers under the Secretary of Labor’s supervision.

“Elections belong to the people, and union members have a federally-protected right to free and fair union elections,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “[This] agreement will protect the civil rights of all Local 98 members and ensure every member in good standing can freely exercise their rights to seek elected office and nominate and vote for candidates of their choosing without intimidation or fear of reprisal from those in positions of power.”

In its January 2021 complaint (Secretary of Labor v. Local 98, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Civ. No. 21-96 EDPA), the United States alleged that Local 98, through its incumbent officers and their supporting members, intimidated and threatened other members who sought to challenge incumbent union leadership in the union’s June 2020 elections, causing these members to withdraw from nominations. As a result, incumbent union leadership ran unopposed and all officers – including the president and five executive board members – were declared re-elected without opposition. The United States alleged that Local 98’s interference, threats, and retaliation against the intended challengers violated its members’ rights under the LMRDA to nominate, be nominated, and vote for or otherwise support the candidates of their choice without improper interference or threat of reprisal.

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In the civil lawsuit, the United States alleged that Local 98 convinced three of its members to withdraw from nominations in its June 2020 officer election through a pressure campaign orchestrated by its entrenched leadership, including then-Business Manager John Dougherty and President Brian Burrows. The alleged campaign included a promise by Dougherty to a member intending to run for office that Dougherty would associate the member with offensive comments on a website “if he ran with [an opposition] ticket” and threats such as “If you ain’t with me, you’re against me!” and “It’ll be a long three years if you lose.” It included an unannounced and knowingly unwelcome visit by business agent Robert Bark to a member’s home two nights before nominations, which “put the fear of God” into the member’s wife and family. It also included an in-person nomination requirement imposed by incumbent president Burrows that both required challengers to walk a “gauntlet” of Dougherty supporters to be nominated for office and violated the union’s constitution. Finally, it included enlisting a member’s elder relative and former Local 98 business agent to deliver a message that supporting a challenging candidate for office would disgrace the family’s generations-old reputation in the union.

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The United States further alleged that Local 98, which at the time was controlled by a slate of officers that had not changed in years, had a pattern of interfering with the efforts of rank-and-file members to run for local union office since at least 2014. Dougherty resigned as Business Manager of Local 98, a position he had held since 1993, in November 2021, the day after he was convicted on federal conspiracy and corruption charges.

Under the agreement, Local 98 will conduct its next regular election for the offices of president and five executive board members under the Secretary’s supervision.

“[This] agreement will help ensure every Local 98 member will have his or her voice heard in a free and fair officer election. If you interfere with anyone’s rights to vote, or to seek office, the United States will hold you accountable,” Williams said.

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“The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) is committed to protecting the rights of union members by ensuring that every member can participate fully in a fair union officer election,” said OLMS Northeastern Regional Director Megan Underwood.  “We will work to ensure that the rights of IBEW Local 98 members are protected during the upcoming officer election.”

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

The civil investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), and is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Lauren DeBruicker.

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