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Food union president defends election effort


The president of Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union defended the local's handling of a bitterly contested election, in the wake of a lawsuit by the U.S. Labor Department seeking to have president Tom Russow's election voided and a new election ordered.

The Labor Department on Tuesday filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Baltimore charging that the 26,000-member local failed to give all members a chance to vote in an election last October in which the incumbent Mr. Russow beat challenger Cliff Parry by less than 200 votes. About 5,700 votes were cast.

The Labor Department complaint turns on ballots that did not reach members because they were mailed without enough address information, mostly to supermarket workers in the five states where the local represents workers. The law requires the union to make all reasonable efforts to get a ballot to each member so the member has a chance to vote.

But the challengers say 3,500 ballots never got to the workers. Mr. Russow said the number was about 1,600. Both sides say the Labor Department, which declined comment on the case, believes about 2,500 ballots never reached their destination.

Mr. Russow said the problem was that the union's membership turns over so fast that it is impossible to keep the membership mailing list up to date.

"Nobody has perfect addresses," he said. "It's virtually impossible for an organization with 26,000 members to have perfect addresses. We have a turnover every month of about 900 new members coming in and 900 members going out."

Mr. Russow said the union's defense to the suit will be that it made the reasonable efforts the law requires to keep the list up to date.

"We have not been able to convince them that every effort was made, so we'll see them in court," Mr. Russow said.

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