Duty Of Fair Representation Does Not Apply To Informal Discussions

Firefighter James Coyle is a dues-paying member of Local 4420 of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), which represents the Pasco County firefighters in Florida. Coyle filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against Local 4420, alleging that he sought assistance from Local 4420 in February and March of 2017 to remedy a pay discrepancy that arose as a result of his transfer to the position of fire inspector.

Coyle’s ULP charge also alleged that when Local 4420 and the County met in August 2017, they reached an agreement to increase Coyle’s pay level from Step 4 to Step 6; however, the pay increase had not gone into effect. According to Coyle, Local 4420 was nonresponsive to his repeated attempts to follow up on the matter and, therefore, Coyle contended Local 4420 breached its duty of fair representation to him.

The General Counsel for Florida’s Public Employment Relations Commission dismissed Coyle’s charge. The General Counsel found that Coyle’s claims were “insufficient to support a prima facie violation. While it is true that a certified employee organization has the duty to fairly represent all bargaining unit employees, this duty arises as a result of the organization having the exclusive right to serve as the collective bargaining representative for purposes of determining wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment for all unit employees.

“Thus, the duty of fair representation exists only to those matters over which the Union has exclusive control, such as negotiating a collective bargaining agreement or enforcing the agreement through the grievance procedure. Here, Coyle has not identified a specific matter over which Local 4420 has exclusive control. Instead, it appears that he and Local 4420 sought to informally resolve the pay issue through discussions with representatives from the County. The duty of fair representation does not attach to these discussions. Coyle does not allege that he filed a grievance regarding the pay discrepancy and that Local 4420 breached its duty with respect to the processing of that grievance.”

Coyle v. Pasco County Firefighters, 44 FPER ¶ 151 (Fla. PERC Gen. Coun. 2017).