The six principles laid out by Professor Summers obligate unions to represent all employees in good faith and without discrimination. As an exclusive bargaining agent, the Union must appropriately represent all employees within the bargaining unit. As part of its duty of fair representation, a union must negotiate and enforce the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and investigate and resolve legitimate concerns brought up by workers in the bargaining unit. Consequently, breaking the duty of fair representation constitutes illegal conduct. These principles thus protect the right of individual employees to fair representation in grievance handling and concurrently allows the Union sufficient freedom to fulfill its role in administering the agreement.
The fourth principle manifests itself in the case of Cruz v. Local Union No. 3, in which the court determined that the Union failed to represent employees fairly. Through the fourth principle, the court established that the Union had taken the plaintiffs’ meritorious grievances for the benefit of another group, which in this case is Abbey, Inc. Various employees of Abbey provided exclusive evidence which demonstrated how the Union, Crespo, and Albino acting on its behalf, constantly ignored and took no action to respond to their grievances. For instance, Perez, a plaintiff in the case, complained to both Albino and Crespo about her lay-off but received no constructive response (Cruz v. Local Union No. 3, 1994). Crespo left the office, claiming he had no time to respond to Perez’s grievances. The fourth principle thus protected the rights of these former employees of Abbey, Inc. to fair representation and, as such, were awarded damages accordingly.
Similarly, principles 5 and 6 present themselves in the Freeman v. O’Neal Steel, Inc. case in which the court ruled that the Union, through Caldwell, acted under improper motives, hostility, and in bad faith in its decision to deny the plaintiff arbitration. While the case resulted following an altercation between the plaintiff and Landrum, a former employee in the same company as the plaintiff, the court established that the plaintiff was denied arbitration under improper motives, which most likely were racially informed. While the plaintiff attempted to seek arbitration because he was acting in self-defense, the Union denied him this opportunity, completely dismissing the fact that the plaintiff had a better chance of defending himself if granted the arbitration. The Union openly showed their discrimination and bad faith against the plaintiff by telling him, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” (Freeman v. O’Neal Steel, Inc. 1977). Concerning principles 6 and 7, the court determined that the Union had failed in its duty to represent the plaintiff fairly. As such, the court held the Union and O’Neal liable for the damages caused to the plaintiff and ordered the plaintiff’s reinstatement to his employment.
Therefore, the six principles play an essential role in protecting employees’ right to fair representation and enabling the Union to fulfill its functions based on the agreement. The Cruz and Freeman cases display how an absence of these principles would imply unnecessary damage to employees. Without the principles, it would be difficult for plaintiffs to seek redress for a union’s negligence or misconduct or appeal to previous rulings inconsiderate of the employees’ perspective. These principles thus create a controlled environment in which unions are obligated to fulfill their role in fairly representing employees and to ensure that employers do not get away with underserved or unethical acts they undertake against employees.
Cruz v. Local Union No. 3 (1994) 34 F.3d 1148 (U.S)
Freeman v. O’Neal Steel, Inc. (1977) 436 F. Supp. 607 (N.D. Ala.)