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Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination if I’m in a Union?

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Understanding Your Employment Rights in Riverside, California

Wrongful termination claims are a complex area of labor and employment law, particularly for unionized employees. California has many laws in place to protect workers whether they are in a union or not, but understanding how these laws apply to workers in unions versus non-union employees can be confusing. Of course, understanding your rights as a union member is crucial if you face a termination that seems unjust or illegal. Should you contact your union rep or get an attorney? Below, we seek to clarify the nuances of wrongful termination within the context of unionized employment. For a free consultation regarding employment discrimination or wrongful termination as a union member or non-union worker in Southern California, contact Ochoa & Calderón to share your concerns with our experienced Riverside labor and employment lawyers.

The Intersection of Union Protection and California Employment Law

California is an at-will employment state, meaning employers can terminate employees without a reason. However, this does not give employers the right to fire workers for unlawful reasons. Union members have an additional layer of protection beyond state and federal laws. Typically, union contracts (collective bargaining agreements) contain specific provisions about job security and the conditions under which a member can be terminated. With a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place, unionized workers are no longer at-will employees, and getting fired for a reason in violation of the CBA could lay the groundwork for a wrongful termination claim.

Grounds for Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination can occur if the firing breaches the terms of the collective bargaining agreement or violates state or federal laws. Common grounds for wrongful termination include:

  • Discrimination: Termination based on one’s race, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation or other protected characteristics. CBAs often contain nondiscrimination provisions, but even if they don’t, workers are protected by California and federal law from unlawful discrimination.

  • Retaliation: Fired for engaging in protected activities like filing a complaint or whistleblowing.

  • Violation of Public Policy: Termination for reasons that contravene California’s public policy, such as firing an employee for taking time off for jury duty.

Additionally, a CBA for union workers will most often set out the terms and conditions of employment, including grounds for termination. For instance, the CBA might allow termination only “for cause” or “just cause,” or it might set out specific reasons for termination, such as insubordination, excessive absenteeism, violation of work rules, etc. A termination that isn’t in line with the CBA could be grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

The Role of Your Union in Addressing Wrongful Termination

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated for a reason that violates the CBA, your first step should be to consult your union representative. Unions typically have grievance procedures to address contractual violations, including wrongful termination. These procedures can involve:

  • Negotiation: The union may negotiate with the employer for reinstatement, back pay, or other remedies.

  • Arbitration: If the issue isn’t resolved through negotiation, it may go to arbitration, where an arbitrator will make a binding decision.

The grievance procedure in the CBA will set out the required steps to follow to address the grievance. Depending on the way the grievance policy is written, it will most likely only cover violations of the CBA. A violation of California employment law, for instance, might not be grievable but must instead be addressed by filing a discrimination charge with a government agency like EEOC or FEHA or filing a lawsuit against the employer.

Legal Action Beyond Union Procedures

While the union provides a crucial first line of defense, there are situations where legal action outside of the union framework might be necessary. This can occur when:

  • The termination violates laws beyond the collective bargaining agreement: For example, if you’re fired for discriminatory reasons.

  • The union fails to adequately represent your interests: Known as a “duty of fair representation” claim, this occurs when a union doesn’t provide proper representation in a grievance.

Legal Help With Wrongful Termination Claims in Riverside and Southern California

As a union member in Riverside, California, you have robust protections against wrongful termination. However, understanding these protections and the appropriate steps to take requires a nuanced understanding of both your union contract and employment laws. Remember, while union protections are strong, they do not supersede your rights under state and federal law. In cases of wrongful termination, having the right legal guidance can make all the difference. If you face a termination that feels unjust, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice to ensure your rights are fully protected.

Navigating the intersection of union protections and wrongful termination laws can be complex. Consulting with an experienced labor and employment law attorney can provide clarity and direction. A skilled lawyer can evaluate your case, guide you through both the union grievance process and any potential legal action, and work to protect your rights.

Ochoa & Calderón, with our depth of experience in labor and employment law in Riverside, California, stands ready to assist union members in understanding their rights and pursuing justice in cases of wrongful termination. Contact us for comprehensive legal support tailored to your unique situation. Call 951-901-4444 in Riverside or 844-401-0750 toll-free throughout Southern California for a free consultation.

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