Harry Kelber, a long-time labor educator and critic of the AFL-CIO's undemocratic policies, has been illegally expelled from his union, the New York Typographical Union No. 6, now known as CWA Local 14156.
The reason given for the expulsion was a lapse in dues payments of four months, although Local 6 officers openly admitted that they never informed Kelber, either by letter, fax or e-mail that he was behind in dues, as required by the CWA constitution.
Local 6 president Arthur DiLanni wrote the 89-year-old Kelber: "You can only resume active status by applying as a new member or as a member seeking reinstatement, both of which are limited to those currently working in covered employment under contract with Local 6."
Kelber's relationship with the printers' union goes back to 1954, when he worked as a linotype operator at The New York Post. He played a principal role in the historic Local 6 strike of 1962-63, which shut down New York City's major daily newspapers for 114 days, during which he edited the daily strike bulletin.
In 1965, he received an honorable discharge from Local 6 to become a professor at the New York Institute of Technology. He subsequently taught at Cornell University and the Labor College, where he remained a senior tenured professor until his retirement in 1984. In those intervening years, he was a dues -paying member of an independent union, the American Association of University Professors.
From 1984-90, Kelber was education director of Electrical Workers Local 3 and the coordinator and principal instructor of the Trade Union Leadership Institute of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL CIO.
"In the early 1990s," Kelber says, "when I started my newsletter, The Labor Educator, I decided to renew my membership in Local 6, not as a working printer, but in a special category called 'Not at the Trade,' for which I paid dues of $26.67 a month, without any pension, welfare or other benefits. I also paid whatever dues were required by the CWA."
"At no time did Local 6 officers question my membership. They took my dues under the new arrangement for nearly 10 years (even when I sometimes fell behind a month or two)," Kelber states.
On Nov. 30, 2003, Kelber wrote CWA President Morton Bahr, asking for reinstatement to Local 6 and pointing out that Local 6 officers had openly admitted that they never gave him either written or oral notice of his dues delinquency before depriving him of membership.
Bahr's two sentence reply on Jan. 7, 2004 said: "I am considering your letter of November 30, 2003 as an appeal to the decision of CWA Local 14156 denying you membership in the local. We will get back to you soonest."
"I don't know by what authority Bahr decided that my letter to him constituted a formal appeal," Kelber asks, "and why wasn't I informed where and when my case was being adjudicated, so I could defend myself?"
On Feb. 4, Bahr sent Kelber a letter stating that his appeal for reinstatement as a member of Local 6 had been denied. The letter contained several false statements by Local 6 officers, which Bahr accepted as facts. He wrote: "As you have been previously advised by both me and Vice President Boarman the local's bylaws require that in order to be reinstated as an active member, you must be employed within the jurisdiction of the Local."
Bahr, a former student of Professor Kelber at the Labor College, concluded his letter by offering him a consolation prize: an "embossed" CWA retiree membership card.
Kelber is convinced that his illegal expulsion from the printers union is a vengeful response to his constructive criticism of the AFL-CIO leadership and its undemocratic practices. "I have a special feeling of loyalty for Typographical Union No. 6, which had an important influence on my life as a labor activist," he said. .Kelber wrote a book about Local 6s struggles, "Union Printers and Controlled Automation," published by The Free Press in 1967.
"After devoting 70 years to the labor movement as an educator, organizer, pamphleteer and journalist, I shall fight the vindictive efforts to deny me my union membership," Kelber vows, "and I hope that union members who believe in the right of dissent will join me in this fight."