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Can I sue my labor union and its representatives for not completing my grievance/arbitration in a timely manner.

Topeka, KS |

I was fired by my employer about seven months ago. I was a due paying member and steward for the CWA. I have had virtually every stage of my grievance process drug out and extended beyond anything that I could imagine as reasonable. I have to send my rep multiple emails and wait for a week at a time to get a response on scheduled meetings with members of my former employers HR staff. As I understand the process includes four grievances, followed by arbitration. Seven months later and I am still waiting on the fourth step of grievances and could still have it go to arbitration. This is related to another question I posted on this site, titled "Can I sue my former employer and its management team for termination of my employment" (close as I could remember on the exact wording).

Attorney Answers 1


  1. How do you know it's the union dragging things out and not the company? How do you know the union is dragging things out as opposed to just having too much work and not enough people to do it?

    Most unions try to do the right thing and obtain justice. Sometimes “justice” does not help an individual employee. One reason is that unions have their primary obligation to the entire group of job classifications the union represents; that group is called the “bargaining unit.” Unions have the right to decide whether to pursue a case or not.

    As a former steward, you know that most local unions have limited money and staff resources so they must pick and choose which cases to pursue. Unions have to balance the need for more money (to hire more union reps or to take more cases to arbitration, for example) with the bargaining unit’s resistance to higher dues. This is similar to elected officials who must always balance constituents’ wishes with the need to raise taxes.

    You also know that some union reps are highly effective; others are incompetent, just as some attorneys and politicians are incompetent. Many local labor unions are run by volunteers. Many union representatives are full-time employees of the employer so do much of their union work on their own time, especially evenings and weekends. Only some unions have enough money to reimburse their reps for missed work hours, such as when handling a grievance. Only some unions have the strength to negotiate “lost time” with the employer, where the employer has to pay the rep’s wages when the rep is handling grievances; this time is usually limited to a low number of hours.

    Nearly all elected and appointed union officers start out as rank-and-file workers. They may be elected due to work competence, seniority, intelligence, charm, good looks, having a big mouth, blustering, oratory skills, etc. – just like politicians. There is a range of skills and a range of experience among them. Most unions provide some training for officers and stewards, but others don’t have the resources to do so. The quantity and quality of training can vary widely.

    To answer your question more directly: you can file a lawsuit but you are unlikely to win. If a union employee wants to pursue a claim against the union, there is a six month time limit, called a statute of limitation, in which to file a lawsuit in federal court claiming a violation of 29 U.S.C. section 301 or file an unfair labor practice charge with a federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board. There is a high hurdle for successful claims against unions. A union must have acted arbitrarily, discriminatorily or in bad faith – far beyond negligence. These cases are very difficult to win.

    One of the best sources for information about unions and their relationships with the workers they represent is the Association for Union Democracy (AUD) . You may want to visit the AUD website and see if there is anything helpful there.

    Finally, one thing to consider is that even with faults, unions are the only thing standing between any worker and the employer’s ability to do whatever it wants. Without unions, there is no organized opposition to corporate efforts to take away workers’ rights. It is no coincidence that as union membership has declined, so have on-the-job benefits such as health insurance and pensions.

    @MikaSpencer * * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and must not be taken as legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts which are impossible to gather on a public web site like Avvo. * * * No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. * * *

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