Most labor unions have entered into collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with employers of those unions’ members. Generally, those CBAs require the employer to have just cause to terminate a union member’s employment. In addition, CBAs generally cover a number of other critical matters, including pay rates, fringe benefits, probationary periods of employment, shift bidding and vacation bidding.
As a general rule, disputes that arise under a CBA are decided between the union and employer, with arbitration if the union and employer are unable to agree. Those claims wind up in court only under limited circumstances – such as a petition to enforce an arbitration decision or a lawsuit where the plaintiff claims that his/her union has breached its duty of fair representation to the employee.
A union breaches the duty of fair representation only if the union’s decision with respect to a grievance has been made for reasons that are unrelated to the union’s good-faith belief about the merits of the grievance, or where the union has handled the grievance in a perfunctory manner. A union can breach that duty when its decision is based on the union member’s race, sex, national origin or on internal union politics. Failing to meet a deadline also can give rise to a claim of breach of the duty of fair representation.
The National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act also prohibit covered employers from discharging or other discriminating against employees – whether or not they are union members and whether or not there is a union – because those employees have engaged in conduct that is protected by those statutes. That protected activity can include organizing, meeting with other employees and sharing wage information.
The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act protects the democratic rights of union members.