Election guidelines for branch editors and officers
on avoiding election law violations
With branch elections occurring throughout the country every year, here is an overview of regulations to remind branch officers and editors how to avoid election law violations.
Prohibited material printed in local union publications plays a critical role in forcing the re-run of union elections, which is costly and time-consuming. Follow these guidelines carefully to avoid violations of federal law or NALC regulations governing union elections.
Both federal labor law and NALC's election rules forbid the use of any union resources, including a union-financed publication, to support or oppose candidates for any union office. It is the responsibility of branch editors and officers with oversight of publications to uphold that basic principle.
Informing members about union elections and candidates is a legitimate mission for local newsletters. But the coverage must be impartial. For example, candidate biographies may be printed as long as each candidate has an equal chance to provide information and the material is presented in an even-handed way.
Similarly, candidates may be invited to answer questions in writing or present a "platform" of proposals and goals, but all candidates must be given an equal opportunity to submit their statements and must be given equal treatment in terms of space allotted and prominence.
Each branch decides as a matter of policy whether to accept advertisements from candidates. If so, the requirement of equal access and even-handed treatment applies. (Refusing to publish any campaign ads would be even-handed.) It is advisable to have a formal, written policy adopted by the membership or the branch executive board. Rates charged for political advertising space must be reasonable, the same for all candidates, and made known to everyone well before the nomination and election process.
The prohibition on promoting or attacking candidates applies at all times, not just the weeks or months before an election, and to the whole publication, not just the "news" stories but also editorials, officers' columns and letters to the editor. Moreover, the rule is not limited to material which explicitly urges readers to vote for or against a particular candidate. For example, a branch officer's expression of gratitude or support for a national officer running for re-election in a personal column in a branch newsletter could be viewed as a violation. In one recent case, a violation was found where a branch newsletter publicized a branch's endorsement of a candidate for national office.
In some cases, running what might otherwise be considered legitimate stories or photographs that prominently feature one candidate might be found to be a violation if printed during the campaign season.
When in doubt, it's best to err on the side of caution. Don't jeopardize the legitimacy of an election or risk a federal investigation.
—The Postal Record, March 2002
According to the NALC Regulations
Governing Branch Election Procedures:
A branch may not use branch dues, assessments or similar levies or contribute anything of value to promote one candidate over another, or discriminate against any candidate. Branch funds, however, may be used for all notices and for all other expenses necessary for conducting the election.
This provision is commonly violated in branch elections. The bottom line is that a branch is absolutely prohibited from criticizing or endorsing any candidate in a union-financed newspaper, publication, or letter.
On the other hand, publication of information sheets with biographical data is permissible, providing all candidates are given an equal opportunity to submit data and the data are given equal space and prominence. Similarly, providing newspaper space for candidates to present their views is permissible, providing all candidates are given an equal opportunity to submit their statements and are given equal space and prominence in the branch paper. Branches can also sponsor a debate at a branch meeting. However, all candidates must be informed of the time and date of the debate and must be given an equal opportunity to express their views at the meeting.
Election of officers shall take place at a time prescribed by the Branch by-laws. No less than 45 days before each election, the Secretary shall mail to every member notice of the election, stating the offices for which election shall be had and the time,place, manner for nomination and election. For purposes of this provision, the requirement that notices be mailed may be satisfied by timely publication of the notice in The Postal Record, or in State or Branch publications that are mailed to the last known address of the member.
—"Elections," Article 5,
Constitution for the Government of Subordinate and Federal Branches
According to the NALC Regulations Governing Branch Election Procedures:
The Recording Secretary must notify every member by mail of:
- nominations, and
- the upcoming elections
at his or her last known home address. The notice must be mailed to each member at least 45 days before the election.
This provision may be satisfied by:
- Timely direct mailing of notice to the membership
- Timely publication of the notice in The Postal Record, or
- Timely publication in a mailed branch publication; the notice must be published on the front page in a conspicuous position.
Mailing lists must be up-to-date.
Posting the notice on station bulletin boards does not satisfy the provision.
—NALC Regulations Governing Branch Election Procedures
Click the image
to open the PDF
Detailed information about branch election procedures
The NALC revised the Regulations Governing Branch Election Procedures booklet in 2011, bringing the booklet up-to-date for branches' election needs.
The NALC Regulations Governing Branch Election Procedures handbook contains
- commentary sections
- samples of nominations and election
notices, ballots, and envelopes for mail balloting
- an election timetable and related check
- an explanatory chart of the election appeals process.
The rules and regulations contained in this booklet were promulgated by the NALC
Executive Council pursuant to its constitutional authority. Article 5, Section 5(c) of the
NALC Constitution provides: “The National Executive Council is hereby empowered to
adopt and promulgate rules and regulations for the conduct of all elections in the Branches.”
See also NALC Constitution, Article 9, Section 11(e)(2).
The Executive Council enacted the first set of rules and regulations governing elections at the
branch level in November 1981. Amendments were subsequently adopted in March 2008
and in March 2011. The most recent changes consist of minor clarifications and updated
references to applicable law and Department of Labor regulations.
You can open the PDF of the book here. Or, it is available through the NALC Supply Department at NALC Headquarters. Contact the NALC Supply Department to order this informative booklet.