CWA President Morton Bahr upheld the expulsion of Harry Kelber, a long-time labor activist, from his local union, the New York Typographical Union No. 6, a.k.a. CWA Local 14156, without advance notice or a hearing and in clear violation of the national union's constitution.
Article XX, Section 2 Charges (a) of the CWA Constitution states: "Charges made against a member of the union or an officer of the local shall be in writing, signed and sworn to by the accuser."
Local 6 officials have publicly admitted they never gave Kelber advance notice, either in writing or orally, that he was being expelled for delinquency in dues payments.
"When I suddenly realized I was four months in arrears and called the union to pay my back dues, I was told I was expelled from the union. I was never given formal charges or called before a local trial court, as required by the local constitution," Kelber says."They would not accept my offer to pay the back dues to restore my membership, nor would they give me a printout of my dues payments to the union from January 1954 to September 1965 and from 1991 to March 2001."
Opposing Kelber's request for reinstatement, Bahr said: "As you have been previously advised by both me and Vice President Boarman, the Local's by-laws require that in order to be reinstated as an active member, you must be employed within the jurisdiction of the local."
"Bahr knew that CWA and Local 6 had been accepting my dues payments of $26.67 a month for years as a member of the printers' union in a category called 'Not at the Trade,' Kelber says. "I was asking to be reinstated on those same terms, not as a full-time printer."
Bahr's decision to expel him, says Kelber, was based on false information from Local 6 officers, which he accepted as fact, without giving him an opportunity to respond. "Why was I denied a hearing?" he asks.
There are reasons why Bahr would like to damage Kelber's reputation. It was Kelber, who was the first labor journalist to expose a scandal involving 27 current and former national union officers, including Bahr, who, as directors of Union Labor Life Insurance Co. (ULLICO), approved an insiders' stock trading scheme in which many of them profited for a total of more than $7 million. Bahr, under pressure, had to return more than $24,000 in profits to the insurance company.
Kelber has ridiculed Bahr's defense of the AFL-CIO's undemocratic convention voting rules, by which incumbent members of the federation's executive council are re-elected again and again, without opposition. Bahr, the AFL-CIO's point man on this issue, repeatedly argues that the current voting procedures are fair and representative, while opposing the democratic "one delegate, one vote"rule. "As my student, Morty Bahr learned very little from my lectures on union democracy," Kelber says.
But what really angered Bahr and other AFL-CIO leaders was Kelber's publication of a new pamphlet, "10 Ways to Reform an Undemocratic AFL-CIO." Here, for the first time, was not only criticism of the AFL-CIO leadership, which they never bothered to respond to, but a plan for reform which it was hard to ignore.
Many union members see Bahr's decision as a crude attempt to banish Kelber from the labor movement in the hope that as an "outsider," his influence as a critic of the AFL-CIO leadership would diminish. If the expulsion stands, it will certainly have a chilling effect on rank-and-file activists, they say.
If you want to respond to Bahr, his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.