Union Indifference and it’s Implication on You
In a previous post, we covered the complexity of representation and a local union’s ability to effectively function in a complex representational environment. This post concerns union indifference. It is important to distinguish between union indifference and union ability.
As consultants to federal employees facing matters of EEO, discipline, or adverse actions, we are amazed at the stories we hear from dues paying union members concerning the indifference of local unions regarding issues they face. These are members who paid dues for many years, or otherwise belong to the bargaining unit without regard to dues, seeking the assistance of the local union during difficult times. They are either simply ignored or provided false information, intentionally or unintentionally, that will adversely affect their appeal rights (this is why we strongly suggest we are consulted as early as possible in any situation).
In any situation involving appeal rights, whether disciplinary (i.e. suspension), adverse action (i.e. removal), or EEO Complaints, the clock is ticking in terms of appeal rights. Deadlines are absolute, with extremely rare exceptions. Union delays in filing documents or getting the employee accurate information could have disastrous implications such as one instance in which a federal labor union assured the affected employee it would file an MSPB appeal (30 days) and it did not. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) will not accept union incompetence or delay as an excuse. You are simply out of luck and lose your right to appeal to MSPB. The same goes for EEO Complaints (45 days) and the negotiated grievance/arbitration process (consult your local Master Agreement for timelines).
What to Do
If you receive a proposed suspension or removal or believe you have an EEO Complaint, the clock is ticking on deadlines. This aspect cannot be overstated. If your union is unresponsive, you must proceed on your own or forfeit all rights of appeal. Note, the only exception is if the agency either 1) fails to inform you of your rights (or procedures) of appeal or 2) falsely or inaccurately informs you of your right (and procedures) to appeal. If you believe you are not being effectively represented, you should elevate your concerns to the local union president. If your local union president appears unresponsive, you can further elevate the issue to higher union office such as an AFGE District Office (or the equivalent office in other unions). However, in all instances, you must meet the requisite timelines with or without union involvement.
The early stages of any appeal, whether concerning discipline, adverse actions, or EEO, are critical. The greater the adverse impact on you and your family personally, the more critical the early stage. Union indifference or inability at this early stage will hinder any chance at an early settlement and likely make your appeal materially deficient at the latter stages. Our consultants specialize in clarifying and framing issues as well as identifying appropriate routes of appeal most likely to yield positive results early in any appeal process. The longer you wait to obtain adequate representation and consultation, the more likely you will not achieve the desired outcome. It is far better to prevent your removal from Federal Service than fight for reinstatement.