Teamsters Serving Their Country Told They Can’t Serve Their Union

Last October, when Local 25 Teamster Dave Vallone returned from 18 months of active duty with the Army Reserves, he looked forward to returning to work as a shop steward—and to running for delegate to the Teamster Convention.

Then Vallone, a 26-year Teamster, learned that he was ineligible to run for delegate because his military leave caused a break in his dues payments. “I couldn’t believe that I lost my right to serve my union because I’d been serving my country,” Vallone said. The Teamster Constitution and the Election Rules both require members to pay their dues for 24 consecutive months before nominations in order to be eligible to run for convention delegate or union office.

This rule is strictly interpreted and bars members from running based on technicalities that have nothing to do with loyalty to our union or members’ commitment to paying their dues. For example, Vallone’s breaks in his dues occurred because he was on military leave training national guard and army reserve units that were being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan—not once, but twice during the 24-month period. Vallone is not alone in being disqualified because of military service. Local 97 Secretary-Treasurer Patricia Ward-Jenkins was barred from running for convention delegate because she paid her dues late when she was activated to serve in Iraq.

In upholding Ward-Jenkins’ ineligibility, Election Appeals Master Kenneth Conboy said, “I share the dismay of the Election Supervisor that an IBT member, on active military service of the United States in time of war, whose continuous dues payment was inadvertently interrupted, is thereby precluded from seeking election to Union office.” But the 24-month rule provides no exceptions for military leave or other involuntary leaves of absence.

Does that really make sense? “The last thing on your mind when you’re called up for military service is paying your union dues on time,” Vallone said. “We call on employers to do the right thing for members on military leave. Our union should lead by example.”

Time to End the 24-Month Rule

The controversy brings to light an extreme example of the many Teamsters who are unfairly disqualified by the 24-month rule—including Teamsters who make late dues payments or go on temporary withdrawal because of pregnancy, on-the-job injury or other factors. UPS Teamster Nichele Fulmore was barred from running for delegate in North Carolina Local 391 last fall because she went on pregnancy leave in July, 2003. Countless Teamsters have been prevented from running for union office because they missed dues payments after on-the-job injuries.

The 24-month rule hurts Teamsters of all political views. Ward-Jenkins is a Hoffa supporter. Vallone and Fulmore back Leedham. All deserve a voice in our union. It obviously makes sense that members must pay their dues to be eligible to run for union office. But with all of these problems—and with the Election Supervisor and Appeals Master both stating their dismay at the inflexibility of the 24-month rule—it’s clear that it’s time to draw up a new eligibility rule that doesn’t disqualify dedicated Teamster members based on technicalities. That rule can and should beapproved at the upcoming Teamster Convention.

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