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Can union employees file claims for wrongful termination?

In Missouri, as in most other jurisdictions, employers in this "at will" state can terminate a worker's employment for any reason or no reason at all. The exceptions to this are for reasons related to discrimination that are already prohibited under federal, state or local statutes.

In the case of members of a labor union, however, an employee can lose their job only for "just cause," giving them significantly more protections under the law. Even when the employer is able to justify the reason for the termination, union members who dispute the just cause reason cited have an avenue of redress open to them with the assistance of their union representative.

These rights are usually hard-won through the collective bargaining efforts of the union that results in a valid labor union contract that is drawn up between the members and their employer. Covered under labor union contracts are the following:

-- Wages

-- Benefits

-- Working conditions

-- Dues payment

-- Provisions for the workplace grievance process

-- Management rights

The grievance process with union members is similar to the complaint resolution process for nonunion workers, but with labor union members, their union rep will usually file the grievance on their behalf.

The next step in the process is the employee's supervisor reviewing the grievance and responding. One response is to kick the grievance higher up onto the chain of command for resolution. This is actually quite common because contract interpretation can be a complex matter.

Management also has a representative who is usually a specialist in labor relations on the staff of the company's human resources department. The management rep and the union steward will then attempt to resolve the grievance for wrongful termination at that level next.

If those attempts fail, a worker's next option is arbitration, a more inexpensive and informal alternative than litigation in the courts. Witnesses and evidence are presented and argued before an impartial arbiter.

Most labor contracts contain clauses that indicate arbitration is binding in labor disputes and the matter is resolved. When the arbitrator sides with the decision of the immediate supervisor to terminate the worker, that's the result. Most courts refuse to accept cases for litigation once the binding arbitration process has run its course.

To learn more about specific rights, contact a Missouri employment law attorney.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Can a Union Employee File a Charge of Wrongful Termination?" Ruth Mayhew, Dec. 01, 2014

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