Union’s Duty of Fair Representation

If you are represented by a union, you expect and deserve to be represented fairly by that union in your workplace; particularly when your employer has subjected you to discipline or discharge.

Federal law imposes on unions a duty to fairly represent all employees – whether members of the union or not – in good faith, and without discrimination. This duty applies to every action that a union may take in dealing with an employer as your representative, including collective bargaining, handling grievances, and operating exclusive hiring halls.

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Unions are entitled to great deference in their decision making and mere negligence, poor judgment or ineptitude is not enough to establish a breach of the duty of fair representation.

The Union may have violated the duty of fair representation, however, if its conduct is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.

A union’s conduct may be deemed arbitrary if it is so far outside a wide range of reasonableness as to be irrational. Arbitrary conduct includes both intentional conduct and acts of omission which, while not calculated to harm union members, may be so egregious, so far short of minimum standards of fairness to the employee and so unrelated to legitimate union interests, as to be arbitrary.

For example, if there is grievance procedure in your workplace, your union has an obligation to perform an investigation to determine whether there is merit to your grievance. While the union is not obligated to initiate the grievance procedure in every case, a union acts arbitrarily when it simply ignores a meritorious grievance.

Furthermore, a union which represents you cannot refuse to process your grievance because you have criticized union officials.

The duty of fair representation may also be violated if a union excludes or expels an individual from membership, or discriminates against an employee, because of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, or age.