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union owes a duty of fair representation to all of the workers it represents. This duty requires that the union act fairly, impartially, and without ill will or discrimination when pursuing a worker’s grievance or when negotiating a new contract with the employer. The union is required to take reasonable steps to investigate a grievance and must represent members in more than a dismissive manner. It is illegal for a union to treat you in ways that are: arbitrary (e.g., a union refuses to pursue your grievance without reason); discriminatory (e.g., a union refuses to pursue the grievances of all of its non-white workers); or in bad faith (e.g., a union official fails to respond to your complaint just because he/she doesn’t like you). If you feel that the union has treated you in one of these three ways and has breached its duty of fair representation, you may bring legal action against it. However, the duty of fair representation does not require the union to pursue all grievances until the final possible stage of the grievance procedure or to take all the steps that the member might want it to. The duty of fair representation does not even require that the union do a particularly good job at representing grievances. Unions are only prohibited from acting in arbitrary or discriminatory ways, or in bad faith.
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Additionally unfair labor practices are also claims against unions.
To file a ULP against a union, a union member must fill out NLRB Form 508. Be advised that the NLRB doesn’t have jurisdiction to investigate all unfair employment issues. The NLRB will investigate the allegations and either dismiss the case, seek a settlement from the union, or issue a formal complaint. Union members may also withdraw the complaint. If, after filing a complaint, the union refuses to settle the issue, the case will be heard by an Administrative Law Judge. Depending on the outcome, the NLRB will either issue an order or dismiss the case.
The National Labor Relations Board has more information on the Unfair Labor Practice process.
Examples of Unfair Labor Practices by a Union
The National Labor Relations Board provides the following examples of ULPs by unions:
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