Monday, May 9, 2016

Union Violated Duty of Fair Representation by Not Providing Notice and Opportunity for Members to Voice Concerns

The Public Employment Relations Board recently clarified that a union violates its duty of fair representation of its members when it fails to give at least some notice and opportunity for members to voice their concerns about an agreement under negotiation.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles ("UTLA") is the exclusive representative for L.A. Unified School District’s ("LAUSD") certificated employees, including around 4,000 “career” substitute teachers. In mid-2009 LAUSD laid off 1,800 teachers. Shortly after that the UTLA President signed a side letter with LAUSD giving priority for substitute assignments to laid off probationary substitute teachers. This changed the priority rule from one based on seniority. However, the President did not consult with UTLA representatives for substitute teachers nor request input from UTLA members.

When UTLA substitute teachers discovered this months later, one of them (Mr. Kennon Raines) filed an individual unfair practice charge against UTLA. Along with 149 other UTLA substitute teachers, he alleged that UTLA had violated its duty of fair representation.

PERB first ruled in Raines v. UTLA (2016) that UTLA did not violate the duty of fair representation by agreeing to the substantive terms of the side letter. PERB held that the terms were reasonable, even though they were not favorable toward career substitute teachers.

However, PERB also ruled that UTLA violated the duty of fair representation by failing to give notice to its members about the side letter. A violation of this duty involves conduct by the union that is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. Here, although side letters do not require a ratification vote, the duty of fair representation "implies some consideration of the views of various groups of employees and some access for communication of those views." Because the UTLA President failed to provide any notice or opportunity for UTLA members to voice their concerns, he violated the duty of fair representation.

When negotiating an agreement that will substantially affect the terms and conditions of employment, a union should always provide at least some notice and opportunity for its members to voice their concerns. Union members must be given the opportunity to voice their concerns even about agreements that do not require a ratification vote.