Tony Utano

NOT JUST MAILING IT IN: While the slate opposing his re-election complained about delays in getting some members their mail ballots and called for a switch to electronic voting, Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano was making his case directly to members prior to the Dec. 8 deadline for receiving the votes. A union spokesman pointed out that Federal officials have raised questions about whether electronic voting might violate the secret ballot and would prevent observers from all sides being able to monitor ballots as they were tallied.

The slate of Transport Workers Union Local 100 members challenging the incumbent President Tony Utano has written the union's election committee over concerns that members are not getting their mail ballots.

Ballots were mailed out on Nov. 15 and are due by Dec. 8, when they will be tabulated by the American Arbitration Association. Members who have not gotten a ballot should call AAA at 1-800-592-5218 weekdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

A Longtime Problem? 

In a Nov. 26 phone interview, Car Inspector Joe Campbell, a past candidate for union president who is running for recording secretary on the Progressive Change line, said he had written the election committee after receiving multiple complaints that members didn't get ballots but received campaign literature from Mr. Utano's Stand United slate.

"As far as I know, this has been a problem since at least 2012, when I started running," he said. "It's not just people's malaise. People are not getting the ballots and when you call in to get a duplicate ballot and you factor in the time it takes to get down there it's a very tight timeline with a holiday week in the middle and the Post Office being what it is."

A spokesman for Mr. Utano, Pete Donohue, said the union had not gotten reports of ballots not being received and to avert such problems vetted its mailing list with a national forwarding-address database in advance of the election.

"There's also a neutral and independent election monitor, a position a lot of unions don't have," he said. "And both sides are pumping out the 1-800-number" to alert members who might not have received ballots.

'Snail-Mail' Lament 

Mr. Campbell said he got his ballot at his home in Astoria, Queens on Monday Nov. 22, a full week after they were mailed.

"Why can't we look at the union's mailing list they use to mail out their propaganda and the one being used for the ballot mailing?" he asked. "If this was being done by electronic balloting, instead of snail mail, this wouldn't be an issue. We would have a union app that would take you from your smartphone to everything the union was doing like training notification—whateverbut you could also vote that wayboom, it's done that day and you can check your ballot to make sure it's right."

Bus Operator Roberto Martinez, the Progressive Change candidate for vice president of TA Surface, said that at six bus depots in Brooklyn, 35 percent of the members he asked had not gotten their ballots. A smaller number of members told him their ballots had to be replaced because they listed the wrong division, like a "member in Buses getting a ballot for someone in the Track Division," he said.

"Members get frustrated and they throw the ballot away and then they apply for a new one and by the time they receive it and mail it back the election is over," said Paulie Navarro, the slate's candidate for president. "This is a way to suppress and control the vote, and it's why we need online electronic voting."

Would Need Bylaw Change

Mr. Donohue said that changing the union's election process would require a change in its bylaws. He added that online balloting could run afoul of Federal labor law requiring secret-ballot voting and "a level of transparency so that all of the candidates have the ability to have observers during the counting of the ballots. How do you do that if everything is going on electronically?"

A U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet on union elections and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act states that "some labor organizations, in recent years, have chosen to conduct officer elections using remote electronic voting systems or have expressed interest in using a remote electronic voting system to elect their officers. Two significant challenges are the tension between maintaining the secrecy of the ballot while ensuring that each eligible member's vote is accurately cast and ensuring observability for a voting technology that does not necessarily generate "ballots" that can be observed at the 'polls' and at their 'counting,' as the LMRDA provides."

In 2018, Mr. Utano won with 64 percent of the vote against two opponents. Fewer than 30 percent of the union's 40,000 members voted.

Previous Claims Tossed

Tramell Thompson, one of the unsuccessful candidates for president then, filed a complaint with the U.S Department of Labor centered on whether Local 100 made an effort to update members' addresses for the purposes of mailing out the ballots. He said he fielded complaints from members who got the union's publications but did not get a ballot.

DOL concluded that only one of the 300 positions in the 2018 election cycle required a new election: the 12th spot in a station-delegate race where three candidates were separated by just two votes.


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