ARBITRATING CASES FOR NON-MEMBERS: MUNCHAUSEN-BY-UNION SYNDROME
Any union leader who thinks dues-paying members’ money should be spent arbitrating cases for non-members is —
- Out of his/her mind
- Has a low self-image
- A coward
- Uniformed about the law
- Keeping their own union weak
- All of the above.
That’s right. The Answer is “6.” Sorry, if you think that is harsh, but it is based on decades of experience running high-membership unions. Here’s why.
OUT OF HIS/HER MIND. Generally, it costs a federal employee a few hundred dollars annually to join a union. Many do so because they know they or a friend might need the union’s support someday and they do not want a poverty-stricken union when that time comes. So, imagine the message a union leader is sending the members regularly paying dues when the leader gives the union’s resources away free of charge to a person who has deliberately refused to support the union. That leader might as well go around the office stamping the word “Sap” on the forehead of anyone paying dues. It is hard to imagine a clearer message to union members that it is OK to withdraw from the union and spend the money on something else. Once that word gets out, the union is on the fast track to being the resource-deprived shell that management loves to deal with.
HAS A LOW SELF-IMAGE. Yup, we are talking about a deep-seated psychological flaw. If someone runs a union by giving away resources to the people who have refused to join the union, that leader obviously thinks s/he has something to make amends for. That leader is certainly not a person who is proud of what the union has to offer.
COWARD. The leader who spends union resources arbitrating a non-member’s case does not even have the courage to get in that person’s face and explain how insulting they have been by not joining and how outrageously offensive it is for the non-member to ask the members for help when the non-member has refused to help them by joining. If a union leader cannot muster the fortitude to get in the non-member’s face, how assertive do you think s/he is going to be when going up against a tough management team?
UNINFORMED ABOUT THE LAW. The law gives union leaders lots of reasons to reject an employee’s request to file a grievance or invoke arbitration on their behalf. All the law requires is that a union not discriminate against a non-member. Given that a union is allowed to turn down requests to arbitrate cases for a variety of reasons, it is free to rely on any of those reasons to reject a non-member’s case as well. For example, unions often decide not to arbitrate a case because of the following, at a minimum:
- it lacks the evidence to win, e.g., it disagrees that the grievant’sevidence is enough to support a demand for a higher evaluation score, or
- It cannot find employees who will testify on the employee’s behalf, or
- there is a better way to achieve what the grievant wants, e.g., by negotiating changes in the term contract, or
- the union does not have the money to spend on the case, e.g., arbitrating will prevent it from running a steward training program or sending delegates to the national convention, or
- the cost of correcting the damage to the employee far outweighs the remedy the grievant wants, e.g., spending $5,000.00 to arbitrate a grievance seeking $300.00 in overtime pay, or
- the union disagrees with the goal the employee is pursuing, e.g., forcing selecting officials to always select the BQ candidate with the highest score, or
- it will politically divide the union and employees, e.g., where a grievant wants the union to take OT work away from one group and give it to another, or
- Any other reason the union might have used to reject a request to arbitrate.
To win a case a non-member would have to show that his membership was a motivating factor the decision not to arbitrate the case. Then, even if s/he can prove that, the case is dismissed if the union can show that there was legitimate justification for rejecting the arbitration request. Any of the above would seem to fit that criterion.
However, if a union does confront a situation where it wants to reject a non-member’s grievance for arbitration, the union should consult professional staff to make sure it can defend itself against any charge by the employee.
KEEPING THEIR OWN UNION WEAK. If employees know they can get something for nothing, they would be insane to pay for it. Outright bat-dizzy, frothing-at-the-mouth mad. So, a union must work day-and-night to show employees that if they want something they must pay for it. Funding a non-member’s arbitration case does near irreparable damage to that message, and will almost always result in low union membership. There are a few other causes of low membership, but this should be one of the easiest to fix.
As sick and sad as it sounds, we all know there is a type of union leader out there who actually likes low-membership. Low membership means it is easier for someone to get elected time after time by a tiny minority of the employees. It also means the odds are slim that anyone will disagree with a union leader’s decision or even know what is going on. Low membership union locals/councils do not have to file detailed reports with the Dept. of Labor or IRS for the public to see where the money is going. Agency negotiators have even been known to take special care of the union leader who keeps membership low so they can have their way with the rest of the employees. It is a sad fact of unionism, but it is very, very true. Doing things that contribute to taking in just enough money to meet the needs of one or two leaders is a great deal for the one or two people in charge. It is the union equivalent of the Munchausen by proxy syndrome.