If you are a member of a labor union, this presents unique legal and specific workplace-related challenges in the event that you believe that your contract has been breached. This leads many people to ask the question, “Can I sue my union for breach of contract?” Breaches of contract are some of the most complicated legal cases around and may require the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer who has worked on many situations like this before.
It can be difficult to navigate the legal process without the support of a dedicated lawyer to guide you through, because minor mistakes made in these kinds of situations can have long-lasting implications. Make sure that you firmly read through the specifics of your entire contract to understand your rights and responsibilities. If you are still asking the question, "Can I sue my union for breach of contract?" — you'll need to proceed by doing additional research and by contacting a knowledgeable lawyer to help handle your case.
As a member of a union, you count on this organization to protect your rights and advocate for you. But if your reps deviate from that or violate your legal rights, you might have grounds for an individual suit against them. Read on to learn more about when this might apply.
Things You Can Sue a Union For
A labor union is a formal organization that represents the collective interests of its members. The National Labor Relations Act means that every employee has the right to join a union, but in the event that a member believes that the union misrepresented them or failed their legal duty of fair representation, this can prompt a lawsuit.
Pursue any internal procedure first before trying to figure out, "Can I sue my union for breach of contract?" The specifics of your local union's requirements are often found in the fine print. You might discover, for example, that you need to appeal to your local union's decision not to pursue agreements through arbitration with an international office of the union. If you have attempted all of these efforts and have exhausted all of them and are still not able to achieve the outcome you wanted or get reinstated, you can contact the nearest location of the National Labor Relations Board or by filing in federal district court. Bear in mind there are different requirements for government employees, like local and state government employees.
Timeline for Responding to Union Issues
If you think there’s an issue with the way the union handled your situation, you should be prepared to respond promptly in order to best protect your interests.
If you attempt to file a claim for breach of contract, you have six months from the day that you have exhausted every other internal grievance procedure to open your claim. Your claim will be directly against the union for an alleged breach of their fair representation duty. However, this is not the only type of legal case that you might bring forward at this time, and this is why it is helpful to have an experienced employment lawyer read through your case and give you further information about how to proceed.
For example, you might also have grounds to open a claim against your employer for the original grievance in the event you didn’t get a fair outcome the first time because the union fell short in representing you.
You must prove first that the union failed to adequately represent you, even if you are not taking up a claim against the union, in order to be successful with the case against the employer. In the event that you have answered the question, "Can I sue my union for breach of contract?" and have decided to move forward with legal action, you could be entitled to recover compensation in court.
For example, if your claim is successful, you could get your old job back and get any back pay for the wages that you lost if you were previously terminated. However, you will not be entitled to money for distress, pain, and suffering or inconvenience that the entire situation has caused you. Having a dedicated and experienced lawyer who is familiar with the ins and outs of the National Labor Relations Act can make a big difference in this regard.
Understanding Violations of Unions Duties
The role of a union is to support their members on matters like benefits, wages, workplace health, and safety. In some circumstances, a union member may be eligible to sue the union for breach of contract because of violations of union obligations. Some examples of common union obligation violations include:
- Striking over issues not related to work or employment
- Retaliating against employees who have legally and validly resigned from that union
- Refusing to pursue complaints from employees because that employee criticized the union or were not union members in states where union security clauses are not allowed
- Threatening employees with their job unless they support the union
Illegal union misrepresentation can also emerge as a problem in these legal cases. Arbitrary treatment has to do with situations in which a union refuses to forward a member’s claim without giving any valid reasons for doing so. Discriminatory treatment cases refer to situations in which a union refuses to pursue an employee's claim because of that employee’s religion, gender, disability, nationality, race, sexual orientation, or pregnancy. Finally, interpersonal tension is another issue that can emerge with union representation, and this happens when a union official or the union itself refuses to pursue a valid complaint of an employee because they do not like that employee.