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My union (the Teamster) has a sleazy practice that I find utterly amazing. If a dues-paying member files a grievance against an employer and wins, the member can sometimes win a monetary settlement. However, they have to go through a union shop steward. Shop stewards with more seniority who process grievances can effectively claim them as their own and take the money for themselves. Some of them rake in thousands of dollars by letting other people file grievances, then taking the money for themselves.

I assume it's legal, because it's a routine practice and has been for years. However, I'd like to find out if there are any state or national laws that relate to this practice. I'd also like to find out if this is a practice other unions allow.

However, it's hard to know how to research it when I don't even know what this practice is called. Is there a legal term for this kind of racket?

I've observed this practice in Washington State, but it probably occurs in all fifty states.

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    Shop stewards are already compensated in too many ways to count. I know shop stewards who get as much as $30,000 a year in grievances. And if an employee files a grievance worth $2,000, expecting to be compensated, and his shop steward claims to be representing him, only to pocket the entire amount, that's clearly sleazy. – David Blomstrom Jul 9 at 16:00
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    To put it another way, if an employee files a grievance, a shop steward should at least have the decency to inform him in advance that "If you file a grievance, risking retaliation from your supervisors and requiring you to furnish some records and give testimony, you should know that, if you win, your entire reward is going into my bank account." – David Blomstrom Jul 9 at 16:02
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    @Damila - Yes, the money goes to the shop stewards personally. Second, the person who filed the grievance seldom gets any relief, because nothing changes. If you grieve a supervisor for working (taking hours away from the employees who are paid to work) and win, the money goes to the shop steward (probably one of the laziest people in the building). A couple days later, you may catch the same supervisor working. If you file a second grievance, the results are the same. Nothing changes. This has been going on for years. – David Blomstrom Jul 9 at 20:23
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    Given the reputation of the Teamsters, I would not automatically assume that anything they did was legal. – Mark Jul 10 at 0:48
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    That could be an exaggeration; I've only been with them for 14 years. I still think I might catch them in the act of doing something legal eventually. ;) – David Blomstrom Jul 10 at 1:30
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The word you are looking for is "theft" or "embezzlement." Theft is stealing someone's property; embezzlement is stealing property that has been entrusted to you. Because unions operate across state lines, they are subject to federal law, such as 29 USC §501. Fiduciary responsibility of officers of labor organizations. They may also be subject to state criminal laws.

A quick search for a combination of "embezzlement" or "theft" and "union funds" or "grievance award" turns up everything from DOJ press releases on specific cases to news stories.

To find out the specifics of which laws apply, and how best to get them enforced, you need to talk to a specialist in the law of unions. In this case, those include labor lawyers, the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), which is tasked with protecting the rights of union members, or the US attorney or local prosecutor.

For more about the Teamsters: They have training material for stewards and grievance procedures on line. Their FAQ covers "How should I handle complaints about my steward, business agent or local?"

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  • Wow, interesting links. Yes, what I'm asking about is literally theft, so I may wind up marking this as the correct answer. – David Blomstrom Jul 9 at 16:18
  • After reading the comments to your original question, I just added some links to Teamster material on line. – Just a guy Jul 9 at 16:21

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