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Can a union employee be the victim of wrongful termination?

When a workforce is unionized, management and the union’s representative typically enter into a collective bargaining agreement. A CBA may be quite detailed, describing employee benefits, the grounds and procedures for taking adverse employment actions against an employee, as well as other procedures.

CBAs differ from other contracts in that a federal law governs them, called the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA sets forth procedures for how a union or labor organization will select a representative for the collective bargaining process. The National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency, is tasked with the power of enforcing the NLRA.

If an employer has allegedly interfered with employees’ right to organize or committed an unfair labor practice, the NLRB has the authority to investigate and take action against the employer, if warranted under the circumstances. For example, the director of an NLRB regional office could even request a temporary restraining order against an employer in certain cases. Our Michigan employment law firm has advised many clients in alleged wrongful termination situations, in both union and non-union situations.

Appeals of NLRB rulings can be filed in the federal court system. In rare cases, a labor dispute might even make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course, not every dispute between management and a union may warrant litigation. A union may choose not to file a complaint with the NLRB for cost, litigation hazard or other reasons.

Unfortunately, the decision of whether to litigate may cause internal disputes among the board members of a union. In a recent example, the Michigan State Employees Association has suffered internal disagreement over whether an NLRB ruling should have been appealed to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. That internal conflict may be disadvantaging employees, which is contrary to the very purpose of unions: providing employees with greater leverage to negotiate for better wages, benefits and rights.

Source: Detroit Free Press, “Internal war raging at Michigan state employee union,” Paul Egan, Nov. 10, 2016

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