HOW NOT TO DEAL WITH TROUBLESOME UNIT MEMBERS
What’s a union leader to do when a non-member (or even a member) openly criticizes the union or one of its leaders in front of other bargaining unit employees during work time? What if the employee was not just loud and disruptive, but also threatened to get the union decertified or the union leader removed from office? Can the union leader report the incident to management and ask it to discipline the employee for “totally losing control” with a co-worker? The answer is yes, but the FLRA just explained to one union vice president what they had better not do in reporting the employee.
The case is titled AFGE, Local 2258 and Sheri Mullins, 69 FLRA 494 (2016), and FLRA posted it late last week. The charge was filed by the employee who was reported to management by the union leader and dealt with whether the union rep committed a ULP when he went to management. Stated more technically, did the union rep–
interfere with, restrain, or coerce any employee in the exercise by the employee of any right under the Statute, such as the Section 7102 right to form, join, or assist any labor organization, or to refrain from any such activity, freely and without fear of penalty or reprisal, which would be a 7116(b)(1) violation,
and/or did he
cause or attempt to cause an agency to discriminate against any employee in the exercise by the employee of any right under law, which would be a 7116(b)(2) violation?
The ALJ and FLRA found the AFGE VP did violate the law given the circumstances under which he tried to have Ms. Miller disciplined. Bluntly put, the AFGE VP reported her not as a fellow employee, but as a union officer and he reported her over a conversation not about work but the union’s effectiveness. The judge also was far less than pleased that the union could not produce one witness who thought the conversation between Miller and the VP was loud, threatening or disruptive.
Here are the lessons to take from this case if a union official ever feels the need to report a unit member to management and ask that the member be disciplined.
- Don’t file or sign the report as the union official, but as a fellow employee.
- Don’t file if the conversation that allegedly contained threats focused on your work as a union rep rather than as an agency employee.
- Don’t file if the dispute was about the union’s work rather than about the agency’s or some other employee’s.
- Don’t file if reporting the alleged infraction happens immediately after the employee criticized the union. Here is a key passage from the ALJ’s decision: “While based upon the record, the employee who criticized the Union may be disagreeable and gruff when dealing with coworkers, it is also quite clear that the Union did not raise her unpleasant nature with management until she openly engaged in protected activity by criticizing the Union in the presence of other bargaining unit employees.”
The FLRA decision cites two previous cases where it has dealt with union officials taking action against employees who criticized the union. Both are worth reviewing if you are ever in this situation.