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Can a union negotiate a contract that takes away bumping and transfers from certain members in the same union but not others?

Ypsilanti, MI |

I have a question about the validity of an unfair labor practices claim against a large union for bargining away certain rights from a specific group of employees but allowing other members of the same union to retain the same rights without asking the opinion of the members of that group.

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Attorney answers 3


The starting point is what the union AND the employer negotiated. No union can force an employer to agree to any contract term – unless the workers are willing to strike and stay out until management caves. The union is only as strong as its membership lets it be.

To your specific question: The appropriateness of a union's action must be analyzed in context. What is the difference between the group that lost bumping and the rest of the union? Are the members a different sex or race? Did that group of employees try to decertify the union? Is it a small group as compared to the rest of the union? Is it a group that has somewhat different working conditions? The answers to these questions and more make a difference.

Unless union by-laws require membership polling, a union is not obligated to ask the opinion of the members. Some unions don't even have union members vote on contracts. I'm not saying this is a good idea, just that unless the by-laws require some kind of membership involvement, then UNDER THE LAW, the union does not have to consider what the membership wants. That said, most unions want membership approval and most union reps try to do a good job. But sometimes “justice” does not help an individual employee or a particular group. 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.”

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.

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.

All your life, you’ve heard “there is strength in numbers.” That's because it's true. The best way to make a union stronger and better-able to help all workers is to participate in its work. Read the contract, go to meetings, vote. Help your union help you. *** 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 should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***


You have to look at your UNION BY-LAWS to see
if the UNION has to get members' approval before
they ratify a new contract with management.If
NO, then what they did was "contractually binding"
on you (members); If YES then you may have a
"legitimate" claim against them. Good luck!



I agree with Ms. Spencer, but want to add that in Michigan in particular now that we are a "Right to Work" state, you may find some attempts by some Unions to categorically deny some benefits to those members who opt out of paying dues. I believe this would be illegal under the new Right to Work statute but to be honest, I don't know how you would go about enforcing it. If you are a dues paying member of the union and you are part of the group that seems have lost some bumping rights, chances are that there won't be anything you can do. You can certainly check out the website identified by Ms. Spencer to see if there is something else available to you. I suspect that what you are seeing though is something that is permitted by the NLRB.

Each employment situation has unique facts and circumstances. This means that information and advice cannot be taken literally and should be used as only informational. The information provided here is not legal advice and should not be interpreted as such.