Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order Lifting “Invalid” Trusteeship Of NABET-CWA Local 41 In Chicago

Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order Lifting “Invalid” Trusteeship Of NABET-CWA Local 41 In Chicago

December 8, 2022

A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order dissolving the trusteeship of NABET-CWA Local 41, which represents broadcast technicians at ABC, NBC Telemundo, Univision and ESPN in Chicago.

The trusteeship had been imposed by NABET-CWA on Sept. 22, six months after Raza Siddiqui was elected president of Local 41. In the local’s March elections, Siddiqui and his entire slate of running mates overwhelmingly defeated the local’s prior leadership, headed by former president Chris Willadsen and former treasurer Patrick Keating, who had sought the trusteeship on a wide range of allegations that U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feinerman has now ruled were “invalid.”

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The temporary restraining order, which returns Siddiqui and all the other members of his administration to office at the close of business today, expires on Dec. 21 – unless extended by the court or by agreement of the parties – as the case continues to work its way through court. The judge noted, however, that if the matter comes to trial, Siddiqui and his cohorts “have established a likelihood of success on the merits.”

The election was bitter, and at one point involved the police. In seeking to overturn the trusteeship, Siddiqui and the 12 other plaintiffs in the case filed suit in federal court claiming that “a political ally” of Willadsen and Keating – and one of the individuals who filed internal union challenges seeking to overturn the election – had made “physical threats against Siddiqui and his family for which police reports were filed.”

Siddiqui, in a police report obtained by Deadline that had been filed during the run up to the election, claimed that the political ally had made a threatening phone call in February, allegedly telling him that the ally and “other factions will make life difficult for you and your family,” and that “you’re making a lot of people angry for running and I want you to drop out of the race.”

Siddiqui didn’t drop out, however, and went on to win convincingly to become the first Muslim to be elected president of Local 41. Six months later, however, NABET-CWA placed the local into trusteeship.

On Sept. 22, Edward McEwan, who had been appointed temporary trustee of the local, told the local’s membership that the NABET-CWA’s Sector Executive Council “took the extraordinary step of placing Local 41 under a temporary trusteeship in order to restore democratic procedures in the Local; correct financial malpractice; and  to otherwise carry out the objectives of NABET-CWA. Local officers and members have reported facts to the Sector which reveal numerous serious violations of the Local and Sector Bylaws, the CWA Constitution, and federal labor law.”

Those alleged breaches, he claimed, included:

1. The failure to elect members of the Local 41 Executive Board by secret ballot election, as required by the Bylaws, CWA Constitution, and federal labor law;

2. The failure to process challenges to the Local Officer election in accordance with the Bylaws;

3. The alteration and falsification of Local 41 Executive Board meeting minutes;

4. The discrimination and retaliation against Local 41 members who were or supported former officers, by conduct including but not limited to banning members from the Local 41 office; publishing sensitive personal and personnel information (including home addresses) in the NABET 41 Quarterly Update; and publishing a falsified excerpt from the Local Executive Board meeting minutes in the Quarterly Update;

5. The failure of the Local President and Treasurer to pay compensation owed to the former Local President, where the payment was approved by the Local Executive Board at its March 30, 2022 meeting, and the act has forced the Local to spend thousands of dollars defending its violation of state law;

6. The failure of the Local to transmit dues to the Sector for more than six months, resulting in the automatic suspension from membership of every Local 41 member who relies on the Local to transmit dues to the Sector (i.e. members not on dues checkoff); and

7. The approval of payments to Local Officers for “work” done on the officers’ personal time (i.e. when the officer was not scheduled to work), in violation of the Local Bylaws.

In their lawsuit, however, Siddiqui and the other plaintiffs claimed that the trusteeship was “imposed in bad faith and was imposed to undermine the democratic election by ousting the Siddiqui administration; to silence their complaints and speech about their predecessors’ misconduct; and to hand the reins of the Local union back to Defendants’ political allies, Keating and Willadsen.”

In his ruling, Judge Feinerman agreed, writing in a stinging rebuke that “In sum, on the present record, the grounds asserted by the Sector (NABET-CWA) for imposing the trusteeship are all invalid. The lack of even a single valid ground for imposing the trusteeship demonstrates bad faith, and the fact that the Sector saw fit to assert so many invalid grounds confirms the point. Accordingly, at this juncture, Plaintiffs have demonstrated by clear and convincing proof that the trusteeship was not established in good faith and is therefore invalid.”

One by one, the judge knocked down each of the seven grounds given for imposing the trusteeship. With regard to the first claim offered by NABET-CWA, the judge wrote that Siddiqui and the other plaintiffs “have shown at this juncture that that stewards were appointed – as opposed to elected by secret ballot or appointed after no nominating petition was received and a vacancy declared – in past administrations and that no trusteeship was imposed in the wake of such appointments. This is strong and, at this juncture, conclusive evidence that the Sector’s first ground for imposing the trusteeship is invalid.”

On the second ground, the judge found that the plaintiffs “have shown a likelihood that they did, in fact, take adequate steps to investigate the election challenges,” and that the “second ground for imposing the trusteeship is invalid.”

On the third ground, the judge ruled that “the minutes of the March 30 Board meeting were not falsified, and the Sector’s third ground for imposing the trusteeship is invalid.” The minutes at issue here concerned a March 30 Local 41executive board meeting at which Willadsen, at the very end of his term, had submitted a motion to be paid $56,000for his 109 days of unused vacation time.

On the fourth ground, the judge found that “the only Local member banned from the Local’s office” was the political ally of the old administration “who had threatened Siddiqui and his family,” and that “the Siddiqui administration cannot be faulted for banning (him) under those circumstances. As for the publication in a Quarterly Update of a document showing Willadsen’s home address and personal e-mail address, that may have been inadvisable, but Defendants fail to make a plausible case that such a misstep justified the imposition of a trusteeship. And the allegation about falsified meeting minutes is meritless…Accordingly, based on the present record, the Sector’s fourth ground for imposing the trusteeship is invalid.”

On the fifth ground, the judge ruled that “the Local under Siddiqui’s leadership was justified in requiring documentation from Willadsen before paying him some $56,000. The parties disagree about how much the Local expended in legal fees associated with this dispute. But given the substantial sum Willadsen was seeking, spending even several thousand dollars of legal fees would have been in the Local’s best interest to forestall improperly making a $56,000 payment. Accordingly, based on the present record, the Sector’s fifth ground for imposing the trusteeship is invalid.”

On the sixth ground, relating to the local’s late payment of membership dues to NABET-CWA, the judge noted that “Plaintiffs presented convincing evidence that the Local had, during past administrations, been in arrears on dues payments and the Sector fails to persuasively show why the delay here warranted a trusteeship while the prior comparable delays did not. Accordingly, based on the present record, the Sector’s sixth ground for imposing the trusteeship is invalid

On the seventh ground, he ruled that the local’s approval of a $2,600 payment to a vice president for lost time at work in order to perform work for the local “was justified, and based on the present record, the Sector’s seventh rationale for imposing the trusteeship is invalid.”

In conclusion, the judge wrote, “Plaintiffs’ motion for a TRO is granted. The court orders Defendants to: (1) dissolve the trusteeship and restore the Local to its pre-trusteeship status; and (2) restore Local members who held elected or appointed office at the time the trusteeship was imposed to their respective offices.”

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