What many Teamsters don’t know is that there’s a federal law, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), that guarantees some of those basic democratic rights within our union.
The LMRDA (sometimes called the Landrum-Griffin Act) provides a series of tools that can come in handy for union activists interested in Teamster reform and holding their union officials accountable.
This article will outline your basic rights under the LMRDA, how to enforce them, and where to go for more information. Please note that the LMRDA only applies to private sector workers. However, if you are a public sector worker in a local with private sector workers, most of the same rules still apply.
Also, keep in mind that this is only a partial explanation of your LMRDA rights. See below for ways to get help and find out more.
Title I: Member’s Bill of Rights
The heart of the LMRDA is Title I, which is fittingly called the “Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations.” These rights include:
freedom of speech and assembly, including the right to criticize union officials, speak up at local union meetings, distribute literature outside (and sometimes inside) the union hall, and hold independent meetings; protection from retribution, including due process in matters of internal union discipline; the right to a copy of your collective bargaining agreement, including all riders, addendums, and supplements; the right to nominate candidates, to vote in elections or referendums, and to attend and participate in union meetings; the right to secret ballot votes on rates of dues, initiation fees, and assessments, except when raised by delegate vote at an International convention; the right to sue if you don’t get satisfactory results through internal appeals.
Under Section 105 of the LMRDA, your union is required to inform you of your rights under the Act. The Association for Union Democracy has won an important appellate case reinforcing this right. As would be expected, our Teamster administration has not taken this duty to inform very seriously.
Title II: Show Me the MoneyEver wonder how your dues dollars are being put to work? How much is being spent on organizing and how much is being spent on officer and staff salaries? Title II is your ticket to finding the answer.
Under Title II, every labor organization is required to file detailed annual financial reports with the Office of Labor-Management Standards, a branch of the Department of Labor. These reports, known as LM-2, -3 or -4 forms, are available to the public. Every year, TDU uses hundreds of these forms to research our “$100,000 Club”. You can order LM-2 reports from the DOL office for the cost of copying and postage. Some LM forms are also available online at the DOL’s website, http://union-reports.dol.gov.
TDU has LM-2 forms for most Teamster locals, which we make available to Teamster members (free to TDU members, others please enclose a donation to cover copying and shipping costs).
Unfortunately, the DOL is slow in processing the forms and it often takes months for current ones to become available.
Like many financial statements, these forms can be confusing to figure out. If you need help deciphering your union’s financial report, contact TDU for help.
Title III: TrusteeshipsSometimes our International Union takes over a local union in response to legitimate concerns about local union officials’ abuse of power or, more likely, the local union treasury. At other times the International imposes a trusteeship to prevent the “wrong” people (often reform activists) from taking office.
Title III lays out some basic ground rules for determining what constitutes a valid trusteeship, and sets up mechanisms for members to take action if they feel a trusteeship is invalid.
Under Title III, a trusteeship is presumed valid for 18 months, absent “clear and convincing evidence to the contrary,” a very high standard to meet. After 18 months, the standard flips, and the trusteeship is then presumed invalid.
Title IV: Union ElectionsIf you are a thinking of running for local union office, you should contact TDU to get the tools and strategies you need to win. But you also need to know your rights under Title IV, which governs the way unions run officer elections.
Title IV requires that local union elections be held at least once every three years. It gives every member the right to vote, nominate candidates, run for office, and campaign without “improper interference or reprisal of any kind”. It also limits many of the rules that unions use to restrict members’ eligibility to run for office, including so-called “meeting attendance” rules, and prohibits officials from using union resources to campaign.
Under Title IV, every candidate for local union office has the right to mail campaign literature to the membership at their own expense, and to inspect the entire membership list at least once during the campaign. Candidates also have the right to have observers present at each stage of the election process.
Title V: Fiduciary DutyTitle V states that union officials must use union resources solely for the benefit of the membership, and provides penalties for when officers don’t do that. Misusing union resources can include criminal acts, such as embezzlement or outright theft, but also includes other acts, such as using union resources to campaign, or an officer taking out a loan from the union in excess of $2,000.
If you feel an officer has violated their fiduciary duty, and your union fails to take action to recover the lost funds, Title V gives you the right to sue individually.
Title V also prohibits employers from bribing members or union officers to act against the union’s interests, and prohibits certain people, such as convicted felons, from holding union office.
Enforcement Tied to OrganizingSome of your rights under the LMRDA can be fairly easily exercised, like looking up your local’s LM-2 form on the web. Exercising other rights can be more difficult, and may even require hiring a lawyer in some cases.
Whatever your specific situation, enforcing your rights under the LMRDA is a lot easier if you can get organized with your fellow union members. As any good steward knows, there’s nothing like collective action to get the people in charge to sit up and notice. TDU can help.
Where To Go For HelpFor help with organizing to exercise your LMRDA rights, contact TDU. We can be reached by calling 313-842-2600 or by e-mail at tdu [at] tdu.org.
The Association for Union Democracy (AUD) also has decades of experience with advising union members on their rights under the LMRDA. AUD’s website (www.uniondemocracy.org) has the complete text of the LMRDA, along with a handy summary and other valuable tools. You can reach them by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 718-855-6650.
The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) protects drivers' rights to enforce truck safety by making it illegal for a company to discipline, discharge or discriminate against an employee for making a vehicle safety complaint or refusing to operate an unsafe vehicle.
With any law, we need to know the extents and limits of our rights and the Do's and Don'ts of enforcement.
Many activities can trigger protection under the STAA, including, complaining to management about truck safety, filing a grievance about vehicle safety, advising other drivers about DOT regulations, discipline or retaliation over running times, refusing to drive or delays because of bad weather, or refusing to drive in violation of posted speed limits.
Refusing to Drive Unsafe Equipment
Many cases have upheld drivers' right to refuse to drive unsafe equipment. However, two very important conditions must be met:
- The refusal has to be based on a "reasonable apprehension" that operation of the vehicle would present a genuine safety hazard to the driver and/or members of the public.
- The driver has to have asked the employer to correct the problem.
"Reasonable apprehension," as interpreted by the DOL and the courts, means that a reasonable person in the same situation would reach the same conclusion—namely, that the unsafe condition establishes a real danger of accident, injury or serious impairment to health.
If it later turns out that the vehicle was not actually unsafe, you are still protected if your belief is deemed to have been reasonable based on the objective facts and evidence available to you at the time you formed your belief.
You must also give the company a chance to correct the problem. For example, if there is a bad tire say, "I will drive that truck when you replace the tire."
Violations of Federal Motor Carrier Regulations
STAA protection is also triggered if operating the vehicle would result in an actual violation of a DOT regulation (a cracked brake pad, for example). Again, you must make the company aware of the hazard and give them a chance to fix the problem before refusing to drive.
This is an important protection, but it should not be used lightly. If you refuse to drive based only on a technical violation of a federal regulation (such as a faulty marker light) you are only protected if operating the truck would actually violate a motor carrier safety standard, regulation or statute.
A good faith mistake about federal regulations does not win you protection from discipline unless you also had a "reasonable fear" of a genuine hazard. That may or may not apply to technical violations.
You can and should report violations for repairs—and insist that repairs be made. But refusing to drive is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly.
If you have doubts about the severity of a safety problem, you may want to take the truck out for a very short drive (unless the hazard presents an imminent danger) to gather more evidence and demonstrate a good faith effort to operate the vehicle.
Important Contract Language
Article 16 of the National Master Freight Agreement addresses safety issues:
"Employer shall not require employees to take out on the streets or highways any vehicle that is not in safe operating condition, including but not limited to equipment that is acknowledged to be overweight or not equipped with the safety appliances prescribed by law."
The National Master UPS Agreement contains language giving drivers important safety and health protection. Article 18 states:
"In no event shall an employee be required to operate a vehicle/equipment that is unsafe or in violation of any federal, state or local rules, regulations, standards or orders applicable to equipment or commercial motor vehicles."
Do's and Dont's
- Report the safety problem. You must bring up the problem and ask the company to fix it. If the company refuses to fix it, talk to a steward or union representative.
- Be specific: You are more likely to get protection under the STAA if you are clear, specific and up front about the nature of the truck safety concern. State that the problem is a violation of DOT regulations (if relevant) and why you feel it represents a genuine safety hazard.
- Have a witness. Have a witness present when you tell the company that the problem is a genuine safety hazard and that you will operate the truck when it is corrected.
- Document the problem: Take a picture of the problem with a camera or cell phone if you can. Show the problem to a witness.
- Keep a paper trail. Write notes on exactly what happened while the incident is fresh in your memory.
Attorney Paul Taylor of the Truckers' Justice Center has provided many Teamster drivers with expert legal advice and assistance on truck safety rights and violations. Contact him at paul.taylor [at] truckersjusticecenter.com or call 651-454-5800.
Taylor was one of the authors of the STAA Handbook: How to use the Surface Transportation Assistance Act to Enforce Truck Safety and Protect Your Job.
Click here to purchase the STAA Handbook.
The U.S. Department of Labor has published a short guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It is recommended basic reading for all active Teamsters to be informed as to their rights, and to help co-workers get informed.
Click here to download a copy of the guide.
Click here to visit the DOL's website and watch a webinar for more information.
A more thorough and useful guide, written by labor attorney and labor educator Robert Schwartz, is available in book form the TDU Store. Click here to order.
One hundred Teamsters gathered in Queens, NY this last Sunday for a day-long Teamster Education Conference.Read more
May 20, 2015: Using your union’s legal right to acquire information from the employer can help you defend your rights and win grievances and arbitrations.
- monitor the employer’s compliance with the contract.
- investigate whether a grievance exists.
- prepare for a grievance meeting.
- decide whether to drop or prioritize a grievance.
- prepare for an arbitration hearing.
Teamster members, officers and stewards packed the Cleveland Airport Sheraton Hotel for three days of education, strategizing and solidarity.
Members packed workshops to build skills on organizing and defending themselves on the job
“Our contract campaign is about putting our members first -- and our patients first.” -- Brooke Reeves, Rhode Island Local 251 and a leader of the campaign for Good Jobs & Quality Care at Rhode Island Hospital.
“Hoffa and Hall have been dishonest with Teamsters. They’ve negotiated weak contracts and imposed concessions. And that's why they’ve got to go in 2016.” -- Fred Zuckerman, President of Louisville Local 89
“Members voted NO in record numbers to reject concessions at YRC, UPS, and UPS Freight. By voting NO these members are saying YES to union power. They’re saying YES change in our union.” -- Tim Sylvester, President of New York Local 804
Teamsters held a Black Caucus meeting to share ideas for developing African Americans as leaders in our union.
April 18, 2014: Thinking like an arbitrator will help you win your contract language grievances—even if you don’t go to arbitration.
When a member, steward, or union rep prepares a contract language grievance, a useful skill is learning to “think like an arbitrator.”
Almost all local Teamster contracts, and some national ones, have arbitration as the final step in the grievance procedure. So just as an attorney has to think like a judge, you need to put yourselves in the arbitrator’s shoes.
Thinking like an arbitrator will help you get the facts and evidence you need to win your case—hopefully without having to go to arbitration.
What do Arbitrators Look For?
Arbitration hearings are different than grievance hearings between the union and employers, and require different kinds of preparation. Here are some important tips on what arbitrator’s think about when considering your case.
Clear contract language. The first thing arbitrators will consider is whether the case can be resolved on the basis of clear and specific contract language. An arbitrator is
not interested in what seems fair or just, but primarily what the contract says.
The more clear the contract language the better. General language such as the employer “will assign work by seniority” is subject to interpretation. Specific language regarding daily overtime, weekly overtime, bidding, vacations, etc is more useful.
- Taking the contract as a whole. Arbitrators don’t consider just one contract section, but they consider the contract as whole. You may think you have a slam-dunk based on one clause but come to find out it’s contradicted by language in another article or a separate Memorandum of Understanding. You can’t cherry-pick the most favorable contract clause. And where there are conflicts in language, clear specific language will trump general or ambiguous.
- Bargaining history of the contract. Arbitrators sometimes look at the bargaining history of contract language. More recent language often trumps older or original language that has been amended or added to. The “intent” of the bargainers—and not just the contract language itself—can also come into play where the union and employer cannot come to terms on interpreting contract language. Good bargaining notes and the use of information requests will help you develop a fuller interpretation of the contract.
- Past practice. Arbitrators will generally look at past practices, particularly if they have been consistently recognized by both parties and consistently applied. For example, a contract may not mention paid breaks, but if workers have been allowed a 15-minute break every shift for years, and the company suddenly cuts the break to 10 minutes, an arbitrator would likely consider that a violation, absent language to the contrary. The longer a practice has been going on and the more consistently it has been applied, the better it is for your case.
- Laws and Regulations. Arbitrators will also consider the case on contract language in dispute in light of state and federal laws: wage and hour laws, EEOC, OSHA, etc.
Preparing for Arbitration
Arbitrators have a stricter standard for evidence than employers at a lower-level grievance hearing usually do. Preparing your grievance from the very beginning as if you’re going to an arbitrator will help you build a stronger case.
You might get away with hearsay evidence in a local grievance hearing if management knows you can back it up. Not in arbitration. Witnesses need to be prepped so you can directly establish the facts.
Use information requests to obtain info related to the case. Anticipate the arguments from the employer. What are the background facts and contract language supporting your case and what facts and language support the bosses? Make a list of the employer’s strongest arguments, and your best refutation. Use the Arbitration Checklist and keep a grievance file to assemble your evidence and build your case.
Finally, the pros and cons of even going to arbitration have to be weighed. An unfavorable ruling might establish a bad precedent for you and your co-workers. If you think an arbitrator will likely rule against you, is there another way—bargaining, or organizing a campaign—to win what you want?
Use this checklist to prepare a grievance file with evidence, arguments and background material that support your case.
- Issue and remedy sought
- Contract language. All the relevant contract articles that apply to my case, history of the language from contract to contract, and any letters of understanding.
- Background facts supporting our case
- Background facts supporting the company’s side
- Relevant points the union and the company can likely agree on
- Company’s argument and our refutation of it
- Our argument and the company’s refutation of it
- Exhibits. Records, documents, disciplinary files, etc. from information requests.
- Witnesses. Are witnesses prepped to provide direct testimony?
Have a question about your grievance or arbitration case? Contact TDU to get educational materials or for specific questions.
You’re online and so is your boss. What are the Do’s and Don’ts for staying out of trouble?
Teamsters are using Facebook to share information, sound off, and get organized. Facebook pages like Vote No on UPS Contract, No More Concessions!, Rebuild the IBT and others have helped Teamsters unite the rank-and-file.
Social media can be a good tool for building union solidarity and for having a laugh. But you've got to be smart about what you post.
If you're on Facebook, chances are your boss is too. Employers are getting more aggressive about firing employees for posts they say cross the line.
Can these terminations stick? Arbitrators and the National Labor Relations Board are sorting out this new area of labor law.
In a series of decisions, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that online conversations between coworkers on the internet have the same protections as face-to-face conversations. And these protections extend to complaints about management and supervisors.
That means Teamsters can use social media to criticize their employer, management or working conditions as long as they are engaged in “protected, concerted activity.” Concerted activity happens when: 1) employees discuss wages, hours, or working conditions or union or TDU activity together, or; 2) one or more employees voice concern on an issue that impacts other co-workers (safety, for example) or 3) one or more employees discuss lawful union activity.
“My Supervisor’s Crazy!”
In one case, a Teamster EMT in Connecticut was fired for insulting her supervisor in a Facebook post after the supervisor blocked her from getting assistance from a union rep. The EMT's facebook post: “Love how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor.”
17 is company lingo for a psychiatric patient. In a key fact in the case, other Teamsters posted supportive comments in response. Management took offense and fired the Teamster. The union filed an NLRB charge and the NLRB issued a complaint.
An NLRB lawyer told the press, “This is fairly straightforward. Whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”
The case eventually settled, with the company agreeing to rewrite its social media policy and not to discipline or discharge employees for engaging in discussions about wages and other work issues.
Protections, But Not a Free Pass
Recent NLRB decisions protect the right of employees to complain about their job and their boss. But this does not mean that “anything goes”.
Extreme personal attacks against bosses or co-workers may not be protected. The legal test is whether your post is so “egregious” that it makes your continued employment untenable. Posting racist or sexist comments about co-workers or management is not protected. Neither are violent threats.
Criticizing your employer’s product, service or customers also may not be protected. The issue here is “disloyalty” particularly if you’re comments could hurt the company’s business and are not made as part of a labor dispute.
Posting photos from when you’re on the job may not be protected. It’s one thing to post a photo of an unsafe working condition. It’s another to post a photo from the job that could hurt the employer's business or image. The photos that recently appeared on Facebook of a prostitute in a UPS driver’s uniform are an extreme example.
Social Media Policies
Many employers are developing social media policies to establish rules for what kinds of posts can lead to discipline.
The NLRB has thrown out social media policies that are so broad that they would prohibit or have a chilling affect on workers’ rights to discuss wages or working conditions. But other aspects of company social media policies have been upheld.
Teamsters have contract protection above and beyond the law, and can use the grievance procedure to defend themselves from discipline if they are accused of violating company social media policy.
How well that works depends on what you are posting, what company policies are, the union's case and other factors.
Think Before You Post
There is no such thing as online privacy. You should assume your employer could eventually see anything you post online. If they don’t see your original post it could easily be forwarded, tweeted or reposted.
Use common sense. Don’t post photos of your hunting trip if you called in sick. Never post when you’re on the clock, unless you are clearly on break. If you would have to deny saying it if you were confronted by management, then don’t post it.
If you are discussing your working conditions with coworkers, you have legal protections.
If you are posting comments about your employer that could be considered “egregious” or “disloyal” or if you’re posting work-related photos that have nothing to do with the union, TDU or improving wages and working conditions, then you may not be protected.
Use social media to build Teamster unity and solidarity. Share information and have a laugh. But think before you post.
Contact TDU if you have specific questions on your social media rights at info [at] tdu.org
How to protect members and enforce the contract when management is trying to derail the grievance procedure.
The grievance procedure is supposed to protect members from unfair discipline and hold the company accountable to the contract.
Management plays a variety of games to derail the grievance procedure and undermine our rights.
Teamster Voice interviewed experienced Teamster stewards about common company
tactics—and how stewards and members can beat management at the grievance game.
The Fishing Expedition
Management has the right to ask questions in an investigatory interview. But don’t fall for a fishing expedition. Members who are called into the office should have their steward with them and be prepped to keep their answers short and simple. If you’re asked about something and you don’t remember, just say so. The worst thing you can do is to make up a story and give management an excuse to try to discipline you for dishonesty.
Another common management tactic is to try to get you to lose your cool. They’ll put a member or steward down, shout or pepper us with ridiculous questions—whatever it takes to provoke a reaction they can use against us. Don’t give them the satisfaction—or the upper hand.
Keep your cool and think twice before reacting to a statement or question. A member or steward can stop a meeting at any time and call a union caucus. Use the caucus to calm things down and keep on track.
Shifting Burden of Proof
In a grievance or disciplinary hearing, it’s up to management to prove an infraction and to justify the level of discipline. But a common trick is for management to try to shift burden of proof onto the employee.
In some cases, management will even start out a meeting by saying, “Do you know why you’re here?” or “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire you right now.”
Other times, management is more subtle, but their goal is the same.
Don’t let management turn the tables. In a disciplinary meeting, the shop steward or union representative should always insist that management present its case first.
Make management answer the question, “Is that your entire case?” Then, use the Seven Steps of Just Cause to show that management failed to meet its burden of proof or that the discipline is too severe.
Management will frequently ask a steward or union rep to drop one grievance to get a settlement on another. This is a recipe for permanent surrender. Once you go down this road, management will never settle a grievance without trading it for something. Grievance settlements can involve compromise. But all grievances should be pursued on their individual merits.
Supervisors love to change the subject to get out of resolving an issue. Instead of discussing a grievance, they’ll bring up other problems or side issues. Redirect the conversation back to the issue at hand—as often as it takes: “We can discuss that later. Right now, we're talking about this grievance.” Don’t take the bait and let management sidetrack the meeting.
This is the most common management game—and the toughest to deal with. The right way to deal with company stalling depends on the situation.
Sometimes group pressure is in order. If the problem affects a large number of members, file a group grievance. Make sure both the union and the company get a copy and follow up with your union rep so they know it’s a priority issue to members. A group of members can raise the issue together in the office—or at a union meeting—to make sure a grievance isn’t ignored.
If the company is wasting your time by stalling, it may be time to take up some of management’s time. Under the National Labor Relations Act, and many Teamster contracts, the union has the right to file an information request and get documents from the employer that are pertinent to the union’s investigation of a grievance. Hitting management with a reasonable, but detailed, information request is one way to make management pay the price for not responding to a grievance.
Publicity can have its place. Some stewards pass out grievance updates to keep members informed about the status of grievances—and to keep certain grievances in the public eye. Post a union countdown with the number of days that management has been ignoring the grievance.
Hold a Grievance Update meeting in the break room. Have employees wear stickers that say, “Respect.” (Note: Your right to wear stickers or take other group actions depends on your employer and your contract. Contact your union rep or call TDU before taking group action.)
Generally speaking, it’s easier to resolve grievances at a lower level in the grievance
procedure. Take action early and target the people who have the ability to settle the issue. Don’t wait until a problem is tied up in arbitration or headed to a panel.
By using smart strategies, we can beat management at their grievance games.