The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN
Promulgation of a rule of law often requires subsequent refinement and explication as courts apply it to new and unanticipated circumstances. The process does not end with the original articulation, "for the many and varying facts to which it will be applied cannot be foreseen".
In the case at bar circumstances which will justify a union member's failure to exhaust internal union remedies prior to institution of legal proceedings require more explicit description. Plaintiff alleges that defendants International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (International Union) and Local Union 1522 thereof (Local Union) "conspired to accomplish her discharge and "loss' of her grievance"
which she filed to protest termination of her employment by defendant Western Electric Company.
Although the Local Union processed her grievance through the three-step procedure provided by the applicable collective bargaining agreement,
plaintiff complains that the Local Union improperly failed to request arbitration, neglected to advise her of the status and ultimate resolution of her grievance, never gave her a copy of the Union Constitution and never advised her where to obtain one. Therefore, plaintiff contends, she could not possibly comply with the time limits for appeals prescribed by the Union Constitution.
Accordingly, plaintiff argues, the Local Union's conduct effectively precluded her from exhausting internal union remedies and excused this requirement.
Exhaustion of intra-union remedies, which should be pleaded affirmatively,
constitutes a necessary precondition to a suit against a union for breach of the duty of fair representation.
Where these remedies are unavailable,
or "entail meaningless or futile gestures"
the union member need not satisfy this requirement, even though as a union member he contractually bound himself to do so.
A union does not breach its duty of fair representation
merely because it arguably handled a grievance negligently or with poor judgment
or because it settled a grievance short of arbitration,
complete satisfaction with the degree of representation can hardly be expected in every case. The pertinent question, however, is not whether a union member feels content with the manner in which the union handled the matter; rather, the inquiry focuses on whether the union acted in bad faith.
In the case at bar plaintiff challenges the availability, not the adequacy, of internal union remedies
and admits that she never filed an appeal with the International Union.
Unfortunately for plaintiff, her reasons for premature resort to the court will not excuse the exhaustion requirement under the circumstances presented here. Sidestepping this integral part of union self-government cannot be justified by ignorance of union procedure,
failure to procure union rules and regulations,
non-prejudicial delays in pressing the grievance,
or reliance upon or attention to casual remarks of a union official.
Moreover, a bare allegation of conspiracy between the international and local unions will not suffice, for the veracity of these allegations lacks relevance to the instant issue of whether plaintiff properly refused to exhaust internal union remedies.
Merely alleging a conspiracy between the employer and the unions will not "counterbalance the strong federal policy of judicial deference to a labor organization's prior opportunity to resolve internal disputes".
Principally, however, plaintiff relies on her inability to comply with the time periods prescribed for appeals to the International Union to explain her failure to exhaust internal union remedies. Plaintiff complains that the Local Union's delay in resolving the grievance irrevocably denied her the opportunity to comply with the appellate time requirement. However, plaintiff never gave the union a chance to make this determination. Plaintiff assumed that the International Union would not entertain an appeal charging that the Local Union deliberately delayed disposition of her grievance beyond the appeal time.
The International Union may well decide that the forty-five-day period began to run only when plaintiff learned that the Local Union had terminated its efforts on her behalf. Traditionally, courts allow administrative agencies an opportunity to interpret and implement their regulations prior to judicial intervention.
To avert premature adjudication, courts avoid "entangling themselves in abstract disagreements over administrative policies, and also to protect the agencies from judicial interference until an administrative decision has been formalized and its effects felt in a concrete way by the challenging parties".
By parity of reasoning, the appellate union body should be afforded the opportunity to interpret the parameters of this time requirement without premature judicial interference. And even if the appellate union body construes the time frame to start at a date which excludes plaintiff's claim, the body might possibly allow an appeal nunc pro tunc.
To allow plaintiff to assume that the appellate union body would disagree invites her to impute animus by the Local Union to the International Union,
a situation which impugns the integrity of the internal union appellate procedure and undermines sound federal labor law policies demanding that plaintiff at least attempt to invoke the intra-union appellate process,
which unions designed specifically and purposefully to
provide a neutral forum manumitted from the invective of a possibly hostile workplace and the peccadillos of possibly bigoted supervisors and colleagues ... Plaintiff never gave the international union an opportunity to hear or act upon (her) grievance. Nor has plaintiff alleged or offered any direct evidence of such hostility by the international union.... To accept plaintiff's proffered excuse would allow (her) to act as a self-appointed judge and jury deciding the merits of (her) own charges against the unions. Sanctioning plaintiff's circumvention of this requirement also permits (her) to rewrite (her) contractual duties and responsibilities unilaterally. By sidestepping these procedures plaintiff deprived the appellate union bodies of an opportunity to resolve an intraorganizational dispute without the delay, expense and harassment of litigation. Plaintiff wrenched from their control a chance to continue a uniform method for the orderly settlement of employee grievances.
In addition, excusing the requirement under these circumstances "erodes the employer's confidence in the union's authority and invites members to violate terms of the collective bargaining agreement".
Final adjustment of internal union problems by the method agreed upon by the parties remains the preferred way to resolve labor disputes.
Plaintiff's premature suit against the Local Union deprived the parties of this opportunity and will be dismissed.
Finally, plaintiff's failure to exhaust internal union remedies also exposes the International Union and her employer to possibly unnecessary and unwarranted litigation. Had plaintiff fulfilled this requirement, it might have been shown that the Unions did not breach their duty to plaintiff. Under these circumstances the direct action permitted by Vaca v. Sipes, against the employer would not lie.