Ask the Attorney, Labor Unions, Vol. 2

I was fired a month ago from a Union shop, where I made widgets. I was the best widget-maker they ever had! My supervisor never liked me (because everyone else liked me!) and he found a ridiculous reason to fire me. My Union filed a grievance over my termination, and I immediately filed for unemployment benefits. My former employer tried to argue that it fired me for a legitimate reason, but the unemployment office found in my favor. It could see what a stupid decision my supervisor made when he fired me! Since I won my unemployment benefits, I don’t know why the company doesn’t just reinstate me now. I’m guaranteed to win my grievance, right? – Fighting Mad

Dear Fighting,
It’s great that you are collecting unemployment benefits because the grievance process usually takes 9 to 12 months to get through arbitration and a final decision. But don’t think your grievance is a slam dunk because you got unemployment: it is decided under a completely different standard than your grievance. What the employer has to show in an unemployment hearing for “just cause, which would mean your benefits would be denied, is not the same as what it may have to show to deny your grievance. Your contract and past practice will govern whether the employer had “just cause” to terminate your employment. It is possible for a Union member to be entitled to unemployment benefits and then lose his grievance over why he was fired. We would encourage you to stay in touch with your Union as the grievance process goes forward, but don’t bank on getting your job back just because you are getting unemployment. Please call us if you or the Union needs assistance with the grievance or arbitration process.

I am a Union member working under a collective bargaining agreement that expires in August of this year. Negotiations are just starting now, and they are not going well. My employer is a private sector construction contractor. If the contract expires, and I can’t work because there isn’t a contract, can I collect unemployment until the new contract is signed? – Nervous N. Waiting.

Dear Nervous,
To answer your question, I would need to know what state you are working in, as questions about eligibility for unemployment compensation are answered under state law. As a general rule, most states (including Ohio) prohibit workers from getting unemployment benefits when they are not working because of a “labor dispute”. But the definition of a labor dispute varies from state to state. This is a question your Negotiating Committee and Union leaders should look at early in the negotiation process, so the right circumstances can be set up to allow members to collect unemployment if negotiations are not immediately successful. Feel free to contact us to talk more about how circumstances may be created to allow you to argue that you are eligible for unemployment benefits after your contract expires.