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From the July-August 2006 issue of Union Democracy Review #163

In AFSCME DC37: A round in the internet battle

Insurgents, reformers, crusading lone rangers, rank and filers ---that is, any union members who want to say something independent of the presiding administration--- turn with delight to e-mail and websites, the free expression avenues available on the internet. But conflict is inevitable, sometimes bitter; because all those freewheeling opportunities for critics make most union incumbent administrations nervous; they want limits. But what limits are legitimate? That latest skirmish in an expanding battle has reached the highest appeals body in the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, its Judicial Panel.

Cody Childs, elected on an opposition slate as secretary of AFSCME Local 2627, is the only local officer not part of the majority administration team. He was tried before the Panel on charges that he misused a personal website he had established in opposition to the local leadership, headed by Ed Hysyk, local president. Local 2627, affiliated with District Council 37, represents data-processing employees of New York City; most are computer savvy, use the internet effectively, and know what is what when they log on. Childs uses his website to promote the interests of his opposition caucus.

In local elections in June 2005, Ed Hysyk and his administration caucus, the Dedicated Team, were all elected. At the time, Cody Childs, running for secretary, went down to defeat along with the rest of his slate. But the losers challenged the election. They argued that, this time, candidates had been listed by slate; but in previous elections they had been listed only as individuals. Hysyk replied that the opposition had agreed to the change. Nevertheless, the Judicial Panel ruled that the change to slate listing had been improper without a vote of the membership. The election was voided and a rerun ordered.

In the 2005 rerun election, the whole Hysyk team was reelected, with one exception: this time, Cody Childs made it. They were all installed. Childs took his seat as secretary, the lone dissenting voice on the executive board. No election protest at the time, but some months later, the Hysyk team went after Childs. On May 11, he was accused of fraudulently using the AFSCME name by misrepresenting his personal website as an official local 2627 project. The charging complainant asked that he be suspended from the union for three years and that he be ordered to reimburse the local for its related costs, including the $2,400 it paid a lawyer to tell him to cease and desist.

Some background information will clarify the charges.

Back in 2001, when Local 2627 established its website, Cody Childs had been appointed official webmaster of its www.local2627.org. But, in July 2005 after he had gone into opposition, he was removed. In advance of the election rerun, Childs set up his own personal websites, www.local2627.com and www.local2627.net, in part to facilitate his campaign. In answer to the charge that these website names deliberately misrepresented them as official sites, Cody replies that, as soon as he was informed of the local's protest, he added a prominent disclaimer to his site. No need for wasting money on lawyer letters, he added, he is ready for any reasonable arrangement that safeguards the local's legitimate interests and preserves his right to effective freedom of speech on the web.

When this issue first came up, at a local membership meeting before the charges were filed, the scene would have played nicely in a Marx Brothers movie. The executive board recommended that Childs reimburse the local for the $2,400 it had paid the attorney for admonishing Childs. But the idea didn't go down very well. Instead it unleashed a furious discussion. One popular motion at the meeting would have directed the E-Board itself to repay the money. What carried the day was a motion to turn things upside down: those E-Board members who voted to put the burden on Childs would themselves be required to come up with the $2,400. The Judicial Panel will have to sort that one out.

Local President Ed Hysyk, who was preoccupied at the AFSCME convention, sent word to AUD that he felt it was inappropriate to comment on the case while it was still before the Judicial Panel.

Articles on the internet and union democracy:
Appeals court backs union curbs on the internet
Free Speech in the SEIU and MEBA?
Union officers uncomfortable with online free speech
Surrendering to the internet: Democrats in spite of themselves?

IBEW president Hill upholds Canadian member's rights
Union officials "condone and endorse" attack on member's internet free speech rights
Round 2 in the internet battle in AFSCME DC37
In AFSCME DC37 - A round in the internet battle
Danger of democracy on the Internet? Kill it!
Whose "IBEW" is it? An Electrician on the Internet.
Results of the 2005 AUD Best Rank-and-File Website Contest
Union democracy online survives two lawsuits
Online Guide: build an effective rank-and-file website
SEIU Pulls plug on "Labor's Future" discussion
52 Playing cards = fearsome "Local 52"
Using the Internet for Union Democracy

AUD's Best Rank-and-File Websites of 2004
Matt Noyes on AUD and the Internet
2KB of free speech? ACLU & Public Citizen sue in IBEW Local 46 election
Making a splash: SEIU's Unite to Win and the "free and open debate" on Labor's future

SAG officers unnerved by actors' internet free speech

Free speech irritates UFCW

Free speech in NWU
IATSE 600: Internet democracy triumphs over super centralization
Cyber-democracy: your legal rights online.(handout)

See also:
AUD's 50 Guidelines for building an effective rank-and-file website, and the sample homepage.
The labortech tag on del.icio.us.

Articles on AFSCME:
In AFSCME DC37 - A round in the internet battle
New reform group shaping up in DC37 New York
District Council 37 union delegates reject proposal for direct election of Council officers
AFSCME DC37: reform fails the test
For union democracy in action, watch New York City public employees
Two letters on direct elections in AFSCME DC37
One Person One Vote on DC37 Delegates Agenda
100 DC37 pickets demand One Member, One Vote!

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