About Us  |  About Cheetah®  |  Contact Us

Union policy requiring written request for anniversary date not arbitrary

By Matt Pavich, J.D.

A union’s policy that required members to request their anniversary date in writing was neither arbitrary nor in bad faith, ruled the D.C. Circuit. Applying the accepted duty of fair representation standard for determining whether internal union policies are unlawfully arbitrary, the NLRB reasonably found that the union’s policy was not so far outside a wide range of reasonableness as to be irrational. In denying the members’ petition for review of the Board ruling, the appeals court found that the union had a reasonable interest in protecting its members’ privacy and in ensuring an efficient administration (Ruisi v. NLRB, May 16, 2017, Edwards, H.).

Availability of anniversary dates of union members. The union required members who wished to revoke their dues-checkoff authorization to send a written notice to the employer and union within the 15 days of the anniversary of dates when they signed the authorizations. The union stored paper copies of each member’s dues-checkoff cards and also retained some electronic copies and members who could not recall their anniversary date could request that information from either their employer or the union.

Two union members wished to revoke their authorization and called the union for their anniversary dates. Pursuant to union policy, however, the union could not provide that information over the phone and instructed the members to make a written request. The members did so, but the payroll department gave one member the wrong date, resulting in an untimely request. Thereafter, the members filed unfair labor practice charges against the union alleging multiple violations of Section 8(b)(1)(A).

The NLRB found one violation and dismissed the remaining charges. In their petition for review, the members contended that the Board erred in holding that the union did not violate its duty of fair representation when it declined to provide them their anniversary dates over the telephone.

Policy not arbitrary. The D.C. Circuit found that the union had not violated its duty of fair representation when it refused to provide the anniversary dates over the phone. The union considered anniversary dates to be confidential because they were specific to each worker and affected the right to leave the union. The union argued that because of the confidential nature of the date, it required workers to submit written requests bearing names and social security numbers to ensure that only the correct employee could obtain that information.

This policy, the appeals found, also allowed the union to effectively organize and respond to anniversary date requests, an important consideration given the union’s 50,000 person membership. The union argued that responding to each request could be time-consuming because not all records were electronically stored. These considerations, the court found, were not arbitrary. Moreover, even if the union was required to provide the information over the phone, some members would still miss the deadline if they failed to call in on time.

The court rejected the members’ argument that past NLRB rulings stand for the proposition that unions must provide information upon request. In this case, the union did not refuse to provide the information, but rather required members to make written requests. That policy, the court found, was designed to protect employee privacy. Therefore, the court found that the policy was not arbitrary and that the union did not violate its duty of fair representation in enforcing it.

Policy not discriminatory. The court also rejected the members’ argument that the policy was discriminatory against workers who wished to leave the union. The court found that the evidence showed that the union treated all requests for anniversary dates the same, regardless of the reason. The policy was related to legitimate union goals and nothing in the record indicated that the union bore animosity towards workers who wished to leave the union.

No bad faith. Lastly, the court ruled that the union had not acted in bad faith. There was no evidence that the union had ever engaged in deceitful or misleading conduct. Instead, the evidence showed that the union’s director of operations explained the process to the members and responded in a timely fashion to their requests. Therefore, the Board did not err in concluding that the union did not breach its duty of fair representation. Accordingly, the members’ petition for review was denied.