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1.20.17 – (LAA/LUS) – Candidates’ Rights to Have Campaign Literature Distributed by the Union

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Friday, January 20, 2017

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Candidates’ Right to Have Campaign Literature Distributed by the Union or a Union-Designated Mailing Service

Federal law establishes certain campaign rights for candidates in union officer elections, including the right to have campaign literature distributed to the membership by the union at the candidate’s expense. The U.S. Department of Labor, which enforces the union election law, has clear rules that unions must follow during officer elections. (Consistent with those rules, Section 14 of the APFA Policy Manual speaks to APFA’s policies and procedures in APFA officer elections.)

In some unions, the officers or employees may be involved in the campaign literature distribution process; in other unions, election officials or a professional mailer may handle requests from candidates. No matter what the practice, a union has a duty to comply with all reasonable requests to distribute literature and to treat all candidates equally. Any refusal to comply with a reasonable request is improper and could result in the election being successfully challenged. 

When a union distributes a candidate’s literature to members’ email or mailing addresses, itself or through a union-designated mailing service, the union does not sell those addresses to the candidate or disclose them to the candidate. The only “third party” who may receive the addresses is the union-designated mailing service, which is strictly prohibited from providing those addresses to the candidate or using them for any other purpose. The only fees or costs are those the mailing service charges. The union does this to meet its legal obligation to comply with candidates’ reasonable requests to distribute campaign materials.

Here are the basic requirements: 

  • A union must comply with all reasonable requests by a candidate for distribution of campaign literature at the candidate’s expense. Federal law does not define “reasonable request” but election officials should try to comply with all requests to the extent possible, since any refusal might later be determined to have been unreasonable.
  • Each candidate must be treated equally with respect to the cost of distributing campaign literature. There is no requirement that the union distribute literature free of charge. However, if a union distributes any candidate’s literature without charge, all other candidates should be notified that they are also entitled to have their literature distributed without charge. (The only campaign literature APFA distributes free of charge is every candidate’s Personal Statement.)
  • A union should inform all candidates of the procedures for distributing literature in advance of the campaign period. (APFA has done that.)
  • A union may not regulate the contents of campaign literature it is asked to distribute and may not require that it be permitted to read the literature before distribution. The union may not censor campaign literature in any way, even if the literature includes derogatory remarks about other candidates. A union’s contention that mailing certain campaign literature may constitute libel does not justify a refusal to distribute the literature since the union is under a legal duty to distribute the material.
  • A union must honor requests for distribution of literature to all members in good standing and must also honor requests for distribution to only a portion of the membership if such distribution is feasible.
  • A union may not limit the number of mailings which a candidate is permitted to make.
  •  A union may require candidates to pay in advance for campaign literature distributions, if such a requirement is applied uniformly to all candidates.

Cindy Horan
APFA National Ballot Committee Chairperson  


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