Steward's Corner: Last Chance Agreements

What should a fired member do if management offers them a “Last Chance Agreement” as a condition for getting their job back?

Sometimes an employer will offer a fired Teamster their job back, but only if they sign a Last Chance Agreement.

Under a Last Chance Agreement, if an employee is disciplined in the future, just cause does not apply.

That means the employer does not have to give a warning or use progressive discipline.

It’s one strike and you’re out.

These kinds of agreements have been around for years. They were originally designed to give a worker “one last chance” to save their job even though management had a reason to terminate them—for example, employees with drug or alcohol problems.

But many employers are using Last Chance Agreements to cast a wider net—with unfair results.

Some of these agreements are so vague that management can fire a member down the road for almost any reason—without any right to file a grievance.

Should a Member Sign?

A Last Chance Agreement should only be used to save a member’s job when there are no other options.

The first step is to investigate and analyze management’s case using the Seven Tests of Just Cause.

Members should consult with their steward, union rep, or TDU to evaluate management’s case and decide whether to proceed with a grievance or settle by accepting a Last Chance Agreement.

Setting Limits

If a Last Chance Agreement is truly called for, then the job becomes crafting a fair agreement.

The union should not accept management’s letter at face value.

A good steward or union rep will insist on protections that will give the member a fighting chance to keep their job in the future. Last Chance Agreements should include:

  • An expiration date—usually one year or 18 months. The agreement should be removed from the member’s personnel file when it expires.
  • Clear language that restricts the application of the Last Chance Agreement to incidents that are directly related to the reason the member is in trouble. (A member who signs a Last Chance Agreement because of workplace violence should not be fired without access to the grievance procedure because of attendance issues.)
  • No vague language like “The employee agrees to abide by all company rules and policies.” Language like that can let the employer fire the member for almost any reason.
  • No access to confidential medical records. Note that if the member is being disciplined for a drug or alcohol problem, the agreement may require certification that they’ve completed a treatment program.
The employer will try to get the union to agree that the employee has no right to use the grievance procedure if they are terminated. But even in the worst cases, the union can try to negotiate language that lets the member file a grievance if there is a dispute over the interpretation of the Last Chance Agreement.

Desperate Situations

If someone is in a desperate situation and the employer is threatening to fire them, the union is not in a strong bargaining position to demand the best Last Chance Agreement.

But don’t let management get away with using these agreements when they don’t have just cause. File a grievance or you will set a weak example, and management will keep coming back for more.

Do you need help? These kind of situations can often be tricky. Ask TDU for advice.

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