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Negotiating union contracts: Seek attorney’s help when drafting arbitration clause

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in HR Management,Human Resources

While having a union in the workplace may not be ideal, having a union contract in place clarifies many of the work rules your employees must follow, as well as how your disciplinary process must work. A good contract may even keep you out of court if it includes a valid clause that requires all em­­ployment disputes to be settled in arbitration.

A wishy-washy contract, however, may still leave employees with the freedom to pursue litigation in court. That’s why you need an experienced attorney to help you negotiate any union contract.

Recent case: Mark belongs to a union with a collective bargaining agreement that says the union “may” submit grievances to arbitration. He sued his employer, the city of Ventura, alleging disability discrimination, retaliation and other claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Ven­­tura asked the court to move the case to arbitration.

The court refused, concluding that the union contract wasn’t specific enough. The use of the word “may” to describe cases sent to arbitration just wasn’t strong enough. Mark’s lawsuit will continue. (Volpei v. City of Ventura, No. B243954, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2013)

Final note: Too many employers only focus on wages and benefits when negotiating union contracts, ignoring the rest of the agreement. Don’t make that classic mistake. You may well be better off granting modest pay raises in exchange for keeping a solid arbitration clause that keeps you out of court.

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