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What to Do After Losing a Union Job

Being a part of a union often means enjoying the benefits of your organization’s collective bargaining efforts. That could mean good wages, vacation, health insurance coverage, and retirement options.

Even with strong union backing, however, such perks aren’t guaranteed. For those who get fired, laid off, or otherwise terminated, it’s important to assess each case individually to make sure you are in the best possible position to receive the ongoing benefits your collective bargaining agreement (CBA) entitles you to.

Layoffs and Federal Law

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) dictates that most employers with 100 or more employees need to give no less than 60 calendar days of advance notice before conducting mass layoffs or facility closings.

The Role of Union Layoff Rules

WARN is designed to ensure that workers have time to transition to new jobs or obtain the training they need to make such career changes successfully. Different workers’ rights organizations have distinct union layoff rules that might still protect their members even if the WARN regulations don’t kick in.

Collective bargaining agreements (CBA) can vary widely by the industry and union. Common CBA layoff clauses may include:

  • Recall clauses where employers have to rehire laid-off workers once they get past the rough patches that forced the initial layoffs
  • “Bump” clauses where people who might get laid off get to take other less-senior positions instead
  • “Super seniority” clauses that ensure union officials get laid off last and recalled first so that someone’s always around to protect worker rights and uphold a CBA
  • “Seniority plus” clauses that force employers to consider other qualifying factors, such as job training or certifications, in addition to worker seniority

Some CBAs completely prohibit layoffs. Many also forbid practices like laying off union employees and giving their jobs to non-union laborers or subcontractors. In some cases, a CBA might also give workers who face layoffs alternative options, such as:

  • Switching to part-time status
  • Receiving new job training
  • Reducing their hours

First Steps After Getting Laid Off

Many people who get laid off have to sit down and speak with representatives from their human resources department. While this is normal, you generally shouldn’t sign any termination letters or formal acknowledgments of your firing before talking to your union rep or an employment lawyer. These agreements may include terms you don’t understand, such as non-compete clauses, or they could prohibit you from suing or exercising other vital legal rights.

Pursuing unemployment benefits is another critical step. In most states, people are allowed to collect unemployment if they were laid off through no fault of their own. In other words, it’s important not to quit or get fired for cause before the layoff actually goes into effect. In some cases, however, such as when someone gets temporarily laid off and given a definite, imminent date for when they’ll be able to return to work, they may not be eligible.

Vital Union Resources to Tap

After getting laid off from a union job, it’s critical to learn what your CBA allows and provides. Many CBAs are posted online, but it’s important to use the most updated version. In most cases, you will need to discuss details with union leaders.

You should provide your union representatives with the following information:

  • Any formal layoff or termination notices you received
  • Any concerns about the way you were fired
  • Communications, such as emails you received from HR or other company leaders

The Appeal Process

Union members who get laid off can appeal to local government agencies. To file successful appeals, however, these plaintiffs will need to provide evidence and facts proving that union, state, or federal layoff rules were violated.

For instance, layoffs may be deemed illegal if employees can show that the actions were “arbitrary” or “capricious,” such as when capable workers get replaced by employees who take on their jobs at higher rates.

Exploring Litigation Options

Appealing a layoff is just one kind of formal resolution. Under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), CBA-protected employees can file claims against employers that they believe terminated them without “just cause.” Alternatively, LMRA lawsuits can target unions that:

  • Failed to represent their members in good faith
  • Acted in an arbitrary or irrational manner
  • Discriminated against members

Unemployment can be extremely stressful for workers and their loved ones. While union members who get terminated have a range of remedies and legal rights for fighting back, you may need to be proactive about exploring your options.

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