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Florida Protections for Union Workers

Unions are formed with the goal of protecting employees. What happens, however, when you believe your union isn’t protecting your rights by failing to support or move your grievance forward? Unions have certain obligations under the law. Learn more about what those are and if there is any recourse for their members.

What is the Right to Fair Representation?

According to the National Labor Relations Board:

“You have a right to be represented by your union fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination.

Your union has the duty to represent all employees – whether members of the union or not-fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination. This duty applies to virtually 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. For example, a union which represents you cannot refuse to process a grievance because you have criticized union officials or because you are not a member of the union. But the duty does not ordinarily apply to rights a worker can enforce independently – such as filing a workers’ compensation claim – or to internal union affairs – such as the union’s right to discipline members for violating its own rules.”

What does the union’s Duty of Fair Representation apply to?

It applies to virtually every action a union might take in dealing with an employer as the representative of employees including handling grievances arising under the collective bargaining agreement.

The duty does not ordinarily apply to:

  • Rights that a worker can enforce independently, such as filing claims under a workers’ compensation statute or other laws.

  • Unions’ internal affairs, such as their right to discipline employees for violation of the union’s own rules or union officers’ handling of union funds. That is regulated by the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

What is the courts’ view?

Courts have traditionally held that, since the collective bargaining process involves compromise, a union only breaches its duty if it acts arbitrarily, in bad faith or discriminatorily.

What can union members do?

The NLRB recognizes a breach of the duty of fair representation as a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. However, since it was originally created by judicial interpretation, employees covered by the NLRA may sue their unions directly. Employees have a six month statute of limitations to file a claim under the NLRA.

It is important to note that, because the NLRB does not usually have the jurisdiction to enforce the collective bargaining agreement or to issue a remedial order against an employer that has violated it, the NLRB often cannot award complete relief to employees. Courts may order an employer to reinstate or pay back pay to an employee if it finds that the employer violated the collective bargaining agreement and may, in some situations, order the union to pay lawyers’ fees to a successful plaintiff.

What about public sector employees?

Florida’s public sector employees are protected by the Florida Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). Public employees include employees of the state, counties, school boards, municipalities and special taxing districts. If a public sector employee believes their union’s conduct towards them is arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith, they may file an unfair practice charge with PERC (on PERC Form 16) alleging a breach of the duty of fair representation. A copy of the charge, along with sworn affidavits and documentary evidence supporting the charge must be sent to PERC. A copy of the charge absent the supporting information must be sent to the party charged. Just as in the private sector, public sector employees have a six-month statue of limitations to file the charge.

Sources:

  • NLRB
  • Teamsters
  • PediaView
  • PERC
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Florida 561-653-0008 California 213-377-5200
* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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