“I’m a Union Member – Can I use a private Attorney to help me with a Problem?”

Question: I am a Union Member, and an employee of a public university. I filed a complaint of sexual harassment with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with a complaint that my employer was violating the union contract in the way I have been treated. I also wrote a letter to my employer’s Board of Trustees about these complaints.

My complaint about the Union contract went to arbitration, and I won. However, my employer did not abide by the award, but instead fired me. My Union reps have not helped me. When I went to a private Attorney, he told me that only the Union can help me. Is he right?

Allister, from Setauket, NY
(All names are changed)

Answer: When you join a Union, you are designating the Union to be your “representative” regarding all matters relating to your employment and your employer. Your employer then must look solely to your Union when a problem, dispute or grievance arises. When a problem arises, your Union is supposed to come in, and fight on your behalf, just like they do when your Union contract needs to be renewed, or renegotiated.

Sometimes, Union Members are not totally satisfied with the efforts, or the results, of their Union representative(s), which seems to be your case. What can you do?

Usually, your Union By-Laws provide that you can “opt out” of having the Union represent you in a certain matter, and instead use a private Attorney for that matter. You need to find out if that is the case with your Union, and if so, what the “opt-out” procedure is. Next, you need to contact both (a) the Union, and (b) your Employer using the “opt-out” procedure, and notify them that you have decided to change representatives, from the Union, to your private Attorney.

I have handled several such matters in this way, but the first step – finding out the Union By-Laws, and contacting the Union and the Employer of your decision to replace your representative – is your job.

Best, Al Sklover

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