Disagreement With Tactics Not Basis For Claim Against Union

Written on 10/08/2022
Will Aitchison

Sanja Drinks-Bruder works for the Niagara Falls Police Department. Drinks-Bruder brought a number of claims against the City, alleging that she was “forced to work in unnecessary danger” on July 23, 2019. Drinks-Bruder claimed that she was retaliated against because she refused to take an allegedly unsafe assignment, which consisted of being “locked in a room with the men­tally ill working alone and not being able to get out of the locked room on my own.” Drinks-Bruder contended that though a grievance was filed on her behalf by her union, known as the Police Club, the Police Club “had breached its duty of fair representation when they say I can work in unnecessary imminent dangerous conditions or be sent home and written up if I do not” and was “arbitrarily agreeing with management and doing so in bad faith.”

In a separate claim, Drinks-Bruder alleged that she told the Police Club’s president that a captain told her to “get the f**k out of” his office, and that the president told her to “put it on the grievance complaint.” Drinks-Bruder mailed the grievance to the Police Club almost six months later, but the Police Club “was arbitrary in their decision to not represent” her, “showed bad faith when not assisting her and giving the correct answers in what needed to be completed,” and “breached its duty of fair representation when the captain was allowed a misconduct (sic) action toward” her.

Drinks-Bruder eventually collect­ed these claims and others and filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Police Club, alleging that it had breached its duty of fair representa­tion by not aggressively representing her. The Director for New York’s Public Employment Relations Board dismissed her complaint.

The Director ruled that “there is nothing in the Police Club’s conduct that is arbitrary, discriminatory, or founded in bad faith. In fact, not only has the duty of fair representation not been breached, but the Police Club has also given Drinks-Bruder reasonably sound advice. Although Drinks-Bruder objects to the Police Club’s advice, i.e., that if she is in­subordinate she will face potential disciplinary consequences, that advice is rational and what one would expect a union to advise its member in the circumstances set forth in the charge.

“The charge also alleges that the Police Club signed and filed a grievance on her behalf which, at the time the current improper practice charge was filed, was at the second stage of the grievance process. This, too, establishes that the union has not breached its duty of fair representation towards Drinks-Bruder.

“A union does not have to file a grievance if it does not feel that a grievance is warranted. Given the Police Club’s previous advice to Drinks-Bruder, which was rational and sound, it would not be a breach of the duty of fair representation even if the Police Club decided that it could not support a particular grievance. A union does not have to file a grievance that it feels is not warranted. Thus, this charge is dismissed for failure to present any supporting facts for a breach of the Police Club’s duty of fair representation.”

In re Bruder, 55 PERB ¶ 4542 (NY PERB Director 2022).

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