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Acosta v. Local Union 26

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

July 11, 2018

R. ALEXANDER ACOSTA, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
LOCAL UNION 26, UNITE HERE, Defendant, Appellee.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. George A. O'Toole, Jr., U.S. District Judge]

          Casen B. Ross, Attorney, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, with whom Chad A. Readler, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney, William D. Weinreb, Acting United States Attorney, Mark B. Stern, Attorney, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, Nicholas C. Geale, Acting Solicitor of Labor, Beverly Dankowitz, Associate Solicitor, Civil Rights and Labor-Management Division, Clinton Wolcott, Counsel for Labor-Management Programs, and Anna Laura Bennett, Attorney, Department of Labor, were on brief, for appellant.

          Richard G. McCracken, with whom Paul L. More and McCracken, Stemerman & Holsberry LLP, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Thompson, Circuit Judge, Souter, [*] Associate Justice, and Selya, Circuit Judge.

          SOUTER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.

         In this suit brought against defendant Local Union 26, UNITE HERE, the Secretary of Labor claims that the union violated § 104 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (the "LMRDA") when it refused to allow one of its members to take notes while inspecting its collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") with other employers. The district court held that the member's statutory right to "inspect" the agreements did not encompass a right to take notes while doing so. We affirm.

         The material facts may be stated briefly. Dimie Poweigha is a member of Local 26. The union has negotiated more than 40 CBAs, including one with Poweigha's employer. Poweigha was dissatisfied with the administration of Local 26, and asked the union to permit her to review 37 CBAs Local 26 had negotiated with employers other than her own. Eventually, once the Secretary of Labor got involved, the union offered Poweigha opportunities for this purpose, but said that it would not allow her to take notes on the CBAs during her inspections. When the Secretary learned of the union's position, he filed this suit, contending that the limitation on note-taking violated § 104 of the LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. § 414, in particular, the union's obligation under § 104 to make such CBAs "available for inspection by any member or by any employee whose rights are affected by such agreement[s]."[1]

         The parties filed dueling motions for judgment on the pleadings, and the district court granted judgment for Local 26 on the issue before us. We review a district court's judgment on the pleadings de novo. See Rezende v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 869 F.3d 40, 42 (1st. Cir. 2017).

         Section 104 reads, in relevant part, as follows:

It shall be the duty of the secretary or corresponding principal officer of each labor organization, in the case of a local labor organization, to forward a copy of each collective bargaining agreement made by such labor organization with any employer to any employee who requests such a copy and whose rights as such employee are directly affected by such agreement, and in the case of a labor organization other than a local labor organization, to forward a copy of any such agreement to each constituent unit which has members directly affected by such agreement; and such officer shall maintain at the principal office of the labor organization of which he is an officer copies of any such agreement made or received by such labor organization, which copies shall be available for inspection by any member or by any employee whose rights are affected by such agreement.

29 U.S.C. § 414 (emphasis added).[2]

         In accord with standard definition and common understanding, an "inspection" is the "[a]ct or process of inspecting," Webster's New International Dictionary 1286 (2d ed. 1957), and to "inspect" does not mean to take notes, but rather "[t]o look upon; to view closely and critically, esp. so as to ascertain quality or state, to detect errors, etc.; to scrutinize," id. Taking the plain meaning of the word as its statutory meaning is buttressed by two features of the LMRDA that convince us that Congress did not intend the relevant clause to give union members a right to take notes while inspecting other employers' CBAs.[3]

         First, the LMRDA uses the term "inspect" elsewhere, and the drafting and legislative history of that neighboring provision makes clear that Congress did not intend the term to include a right to take notes. Section 401(c) of the LMRDA, enacted at the same time as § 104, provides that:

Every bona fide candidate shall have the right, once within 30 days prior to an election of a labor organization in which he is a candidate, to inspect a list containing the names and last known addresses of all members of the labor organization who are subject to a collective bargaining agreement requiring membership therein as a condition of employment, which list shall be maintained ...

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