Goolsby v. City of Detroit

Decision Date10 December 1984
Docket NumberAFL-CI,D,Docket No. 66657,No. 1,J,1
Citation419 Mich. 651,358 N.W.2d 856
Parties, 120 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3235 Embritt GOOLSBY, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF DETROIT, and Michigan District Council 77, and Local 26, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,efendants-Appellees. une 1984. (Calendar).
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Glotta, Adelman, Dinges, & Riley, P.C., Chui Karega, Robert J. Dinges, Herman J. Anderson, Detroit, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Corp. Counsel, City of Detroit by Donald Pailen, Corp. Counsel, Frank W. Jackson, Terri L. Hayles, Assts. Corporation Counsel, Detroit, for defendants-appellees City of Detroit.

Michigan Council 25, AFSCME Legal Dept. by M. Elizabeth Bunn, David J. Houston, Lansing, for defendants-appellees Michigan Dist. Council 77 and Local 26, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.

Miller, Cohen, Martens & Sugerman, P.C. by Bruce A. Miller, Gen. Counsel, Renate Klass, Mark H. Cousens, Detroit, amicus curiae, Michigan State AFL-CIO.

CAVANAGH, Justice.

In this case, we are asked to determine whether a union's unexplained failure to process a member's grievance constitutes a breach of the union's duty of fair representation. 1


Plaintiffs belonged to a group of sanitation laborers, known as white wingers, within the Environmental Protection and Maintenance Department (EPMD) of defendant City of Detroit. They wore white uniforms, and their duties consisted of picking up refuse from city streets with a hand shovel and a broom and placing it in white wheeled barrels which they pushed. Plaintiffs were represented exclusively by defendant labor union. The position of white winger was considered a light-duty job and, prior to the summer of 1975, the city's practice was to assign that duty, for the most part, to individuals who were physically unable to work on its garbage truck crews.

However, under a 1973 collective bargaining agreement between the city and the union, employees in the job classification of sanitation laborer were all subject to the same job duties. In the summer of 1975, the city ordered the white wingers to submit to physical examinations in order to determine if they were physically able to perform all duties required of sanitation laborers. Subsequently, several white wingers were retired, placed on leaves of absence, or placed on workers' compensation. On September 8, 1975, a number of the white wingers contacted the union steward concerning the city's apparently new policy. Ten days later, a conference was held between the city and the union to discuss the situation. However, the city adhered to its position that all workers within the sanitation laborer classification had to fulfill all job duties.

The next day, September 19, 1975, the city gave the union the following written notice:

"Employees who cannot perform regular job assignments because of failing health are eligible for sick leave according to the master agreement. Failing health is a personal problem, and we do not have light jobs in this department."

On September 30, 1975, the union instituted grievance proceedings on behalf of plaintiffs. 2 The first two steps of the grievance procedure were waived and, on October 9, 1975, the grievances were denied at the third step by the City Commission Administrative Coordinator. Under article 8 of the collective bargaining agreement, defendant union had 15 days to proceed to step four of the grievance procedure by referring the grievance to the Appeal and Review Board. At a Local 26 union meeting conducted on October 24, 1975, members were told that the grievances were being processed by Council 77. Also, the District Council 77 executive director testified before the hearing referee that, as a matter of policy, he processed all step three grievances to step four. In fact, defendant union did not proceed to step four within the 15-day time period.

On February 17, 1976, plaintiffs filed unfair labor practice charges, alleging that the city had improperly influenced union affairs to plaintiffs' detriment and that the union had breached its duty of fair representation.

The hearing referee found, and no one disputes, that the failure to process the grievance was without explanation:

"In the present case, the white wing grievance stopped at the third step. What happened to it is a matter of conjecture. Local union president Robertson testified he pushed for arbitration. Council 77 personnel say they didn't get the request, which brings up three possibilities. First, the local didn't press the matter the way they said they would by written request through union channels. Secondly, Council 77 mishandled the grievance processing or thirdly, that someone in the local or council purposely dropped the entire thing. From the testimony, it appears as though either the local or Council 77 representatives mishandled the grievance by neglecting to follow procedure, to process the grievance to arbitration. The question is, then, is this lack of action, arguably, an unfair labor practice under PERA--without any further inquiry as to merit or lack of it in the grievance itself?

"In this case, there is an absence of evidence of purpose (or motive, if you will) to the failure of the union local or council to pursue the grievance. The subject matter had been the object of a special conference with the city. Both the local union and the union council, though passing the blame for failure to process back and forth, apparently show no hostility, animosity, or invidious motivation toward any of the white wingers, or their claim. At best, from the viewpoint of the charging party, the union local or council did not efficiently do as they said they would. Absent other considerations, such action is not, in the opinion of this writer, an unfair labor practice under Michigan law".

Accordingly, the referee recommended dismissal of the action and, on August 11, 1979, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission issued its decision, adopting that recommendation:

"Where the union has vigorously pursued the grievance through three steps of the grievance procedure and no animosity is shown, we will presume that the union has fulfilled its collective bargaining obligation. There is insufficient evidence to prove that the union's handling of the grievance was discriminatory or that the employer affected its handling. The apparent negligence in failing to request arbitration does not constitute a breach of the duty of fair representation, where no unlawful intent has been proven. [Local 542, Council 77,] American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO [v Rupinski ], 1977 MERC Lab Op 861. We find that no breach of the union's duty took place and the [hearing referee's] disposition of this case is correct."

The Court of Appeals affirmed the MERC:

"There is insufficient evidence to prove under Vaca [v Sipes, 386 US 171; 87 S Ct 903; 17 L Ed 2d 842 (1967) ] or Lowe [v. Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union, Local 705, 389 Mich. 123, 205 N.W.2d 167 (1973) ] that the union's conduct was arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith. The failure to request arbitration does not constitute a breach of the duty of fair representation, where no unlawful intent has been proven." 3

We granted leave to appeal on August 23, 1983. 4


Essentially, plaintiffs claim that both the MERC and the Court of Appeals erred by requiring them to show unlawful intent in order to establish a breach of the union's duty of fair representation. It is clear that a labor organization has a duty, imposed by various labor law statutes, 5 to fairly represent its members.

"The statutory duty of fair representation was developed over 20 years ago in a series of cases involving alleged racial discrimination by unions certified as exclusive bargaining representatives under the Railway Labor Act, see Steele v Louisville & N R Co, 323 US 192; 65 S Ct 226; 89 L Ed 173 [ (1944) ]; Tunstall v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, 323 US 210; 65 S Ct 235; 89 L Ed 187 [ (1944) ], and was soon extended to unions certified under the NLRA, see Ford Motor Co v Huffman, [345 U.S. 330, 73 S.Ct. 681, 97 L.Ed. 1048 (1953) ]. Under this doctrine, the exclusive agent's statutory authority to represent all members of a designated unit includes a statutory obligation to serve the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct. Humphrey v Moore, 375 US , 342; 11 L Ed 2d [370 (1964) ].

* * *

* * *

"A breach of the statutory duty of fair representation occurs only when a union's conduct toward a member of the collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. See Humphrey v Moore, supra; Ford Motor Co v Huffman, supra. There has been considerable debate over the extent of this duty in the context of a union's enforcement of the grievance and arbitration procedures in a collective bargaining agreement.

* * *

* * *

"Though we accept the proposition that a union may not arbitrarily ignore a meritorious grievance or process it in perfunctory fashion, we do not agree that the individual employee has an absolute right to have his grievance taken to arbitration regardless of the provisions of the applicable collective bargaining agreement.

* * *

* * *

"[T]he union's statutory duty of fair representation protects the individual employee from arbitrary abuses of the settlement device by providing him with recourse against both employer (in a Sec. 301 suit) and union * * *.

* * *

* * *

"In administering the grievance and arbitration machinery as statutory agent of the employees, a union must, in good faith and in a nonarbitrary manner, make decisions as to the merits of particular grievances. See Humphrey v Moore, [supra ]; Ford Motor Co v Huffman, [supra ]. * * * [T]he...

To continue reading

Request your trial
74 cases
  • Demings v. City of Ecorse
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • November 7, 1985
    ...court to determine whether the POAM's conduct violated the standards applicable in fair representation cases. See Goolsby v. Detroit, 419 Mich. 651, 682, 358 N.W.2d 856 (1984). I The Ecorse Police and Fire Commission promoted Demings to the position of detective on May 5, 1980. At the time,......
  • People v. Leonard, Docket Nos. 178121
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • July 18, 1997
    ...may not merely announce a position and leave it to us to discover and rationalize the basis for the claim. Goolsby v. Detroit, 419 Mich. 651, 655, n. 1, 358 N.W.2d 856 (1984); In re Toler, 193 Mich.App. 474, 477, 484 N.W.2d 672 In any event, there was overwhelming evidence presented from Dr......
  • St. Clair Intermediate School Dist.t v. Intermediate Educ. Association/Michigan Educ. Ass'n
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 31, 1998
    ...Act. The construction of analogous provisions of the NLRA provides guidance in interpreting the PERA. Goolsby v. Detroit, 419 Mich. 651, 660, n. 5, 358 N.W.2d 856 (1984); Gibraltar School Dist. v. Gibraltar MESPA, 443 Mich. 326, 335, 505 N.W.2d 214 (1993). Accordingly, although we have not ......
  • People v. Cheatham
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 30, 1996
    ...Michigan Constitution," Op., p. 360, are mere dicta and have no precedential authority for future cases. See Goolsby v. Detroit, 419 Mich. 651, 655, n. 1, 358 N.W.2d 856 (1984). Furthermore, the lead opinion's attempt to immutably link our interpretation of the Michigan Constitution to the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT