Can I Sue My Labor Union for Lack of Representation?


Labor unions are helpful for streamlining and simplifying employer operations, but they don’t always function as intended. Your union must represent employees without discrimination and with good faith, even if the employees aren’t union members. This duty to represent applies to handling grievances, collective bargaining, and dealing with employers, among other actions.

Keep in mind that a union’s duty to represent you doesn’t require that they do a good job in investigating the grievance. You may be able to sue your union for lack of representation if its choice to stop pursuing your grievance was made in bad faith or in an arbitrary of discriminatory way. These claims are hard to win and must be done in a timely fashion, so speaking with an attorney as soon as possible is best.

How to Handle Unfair Union Treatment

  • If a union represents you, it can’t refuse a grievance you submitted because you aren’t a member.
  • First, you must pursue any internal procedures available to you for resolving your grievance.
  • A union’s duties don’t include doing a great job in representing grievances.
  • You may attempt to sue your union for failing to represent you or discriminating against you.
  • Working with an employment law attorney is important during this complex process.

Again, a union has a duty to fairly represent its workers, meaning it must act impartially, fairly, and without discrimination or ill will when negotiating new contracts or pursuing grievances. These organizations must follow laws regarding threatening, intimidation, and unfairly bringing uninvolved parties into disputes. A union must take reasonable steps to look into complaints and may not refuse to pursue your grievance for arbitrary reasons or discriminate against certain union members.

If you believe the union has failed to uphold its duty to fairly represent you, you may seek legal action. However, keep in mind that a union’s duty to fairly represent you doesn’t require it to pursue the matter in the specific way you want it to or even to pursue every grievance until the last stage. They are only prohibited from discrimination or acting in bad faith or in arbitrary ways during the process.

How to File a Claim Against a Union

If you think your union was not fair in their representation of you, you should pursue any internal procedures (such as contacting HR) available for handling the issue. Once you’ve exhausted any internal grievance procedures you have access to, you have 6 months to file a claim against the union. If your issue wasn’t resolved because your union failed to adequately represent you, you may also file a claim against your employer.

What if My Union Won’t File a Grievance for Me?

Sometimes, a union representative will choose not to file a grievance after you make a request. In this situation, you can ask someone in the union who has power to do so, to file the grievance on your behalf. Unions aren’t obligated to represent every employee in every grievance, but they must at least agree to investigate the circumstance.

If you were fired and the union is still deciding on whether to pursue a grievance, it’s best that you put your request in writing before the deadline for filing expires. If your union hasn’t responded to your grievance, you might be able to give helpful suggestions for how they can handle it, including names of people to interview about the issue.

How Working With an Attorney Can Help

If you’re part of a union, but aren’t sure what your rights are, an employment law attorney can help you clear things up. The law is always changing, so it helps to have a professional on your side to answer your questions. If you successfully win your claim, you might receive back pay (if you were wrongfully terminated) or a reinstatement of your old position. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Union Rules in Arizona

Here are some commonly asked questions regarding union laws in Arizona: 

Q: What rights do union members have?

Union members have the freedom of assembly and speech, protection against improper discipline, equal rights to be a part of union activities, the right to sue, and a voice in setting rates of assessments, fees, and dues.

Q: Does the union at my work have to represent me, even if I chose not to join it?

Yes, the union must legally represent you, even if you aren’t a member. If you feel your employer has unfairly disciplined you or terminated your employment, you may request a union representative to file a grievance for you.

Q: What benefits do union members have?

As a union member, you have access to any benefits the union obtained by negotiating with your employer. The union is acting on behalf of many employees and, as a result, has more power in achieving better standards in pay and other conditions. For example, an employer is much more likely to listen to a group of people asking for the same thing, rather than a single employee.

Q: Can I sue my union for giving me a unsatisfactory result in response to my grievance?

As mentioned before, the law doesn’t require unions to do a good job at resolving grievances. Their duty is to fairly represent you in a careful and thorough manner, even if the results aren’t what you were hoping for. If, however, you believe that your grievance was intentionally mismanaged based on a discriminatory reason (like your gender or race), you might have a claim due to the union breaching its duty to fairly represent you.

What to Do if You Need Help With a Labor Union Question

Employment law attorneys are well-versed in labor-related laws and the necessary steps for pursuing a grievance or lawsuit. While researching general information is helpful, every situation will have unique factors. With the ever-changing complexities of the law, it’s best to take a little extra time to do this right. One of our legal professionals can advise you on what to do in your specific circumstances.

Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.

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