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Federal Court in Hawai'i fines local union, its officer and its attorney for obstructing NLRB investigation

A U.S. District Court in Hawai’i has imposed monetary sanctions against a Sheet Metal Workers local union, its principal officer, and its attorney, for violating the Court’s earlier orders growing out of an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board.

Previously, Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway had ordered Sheet Metal Workers International Association, Local 293's custodian of records to appear for a deposition and produce documents in connection with an investigation by the NLRB’s Honolulu office of allegations relating to the Union’s hiring hall. 

In her latest order, issued on December 28, Judge Mollway found that the Union’s conduct at the deposition was “tantamount to a failure to appear at the deposition or failure to answer questions.” Judge Mollway also found that the union’s attorney “acted with knowledge and with more than recklessness in flouting the court’s October 3 order and in inducing Sheet Metal Workers to flout the order,” and expressly found both the attorney and the union’s custodian of records to have acted in bad faith.

The court awarded sanctions including a fine of $250 per day against the Union, running from October 18, 2011 and continuing until compliance; attorneys’ fees and court reporter costs incurred by the NLRB due to the union’s non-compliance, to be paid by the union’s custodian of records and its attorney, personally; as well $2,500 against each personally. Judge Mollway additionally directed the Union to appear for a further deposition no later than January 13, 2012. 

In an unusual move, the court ordered that during the deposition, any objection must be stated in ten words or less and that any party stating an objection over ten words would be sanctioned $100 per word (excepting only instructions not to answer a question based on attorney client privilege).

Commenting on the ruling, NLRB Regional Director Joe Frankl, based in San Francisco, stated, “The NLRB cannot do its job of investigating unfair labor practices without the cooperation of parties or, failing that, their obedience to lawful judicial orders to provide evidence.  We appreciate the court’s patience with this unnecessarily protracted process and especially its willingness to impose ‘strong medicine’ to compel future compliance.”

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