The Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations sided with a long-time Hartford physical education teacher over the local teacher union’s refusal to represent him in arbitration because he was not a dues paying union member.
John Grande, who had previously served as a union steward, resigned from the union following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME in 2018. Grande filed a grievance against the Harford School Board over disciplinary action in 2021 and after the board denied his grievance, he reached out to the union to take the matter to arbitration.
The Harford Federation of Teachers Local 1018 indicated they would not take the matter to arbitration because he was not a union member. According to the Labor Board decision, HFT Vice President Corey Moses wrote in an email: “The use of arbitration is reserved for dues-paying members. You are more than welcome to use your personal legal services should you wish to continue with this process.”
Moses also indicated that even if Grande were to rejoin the union, they still would not be able to take the case to arbitration because he was not a member at the time of the discipline or grievance.
However, under the Janus ruling, several other court precedents and state statute, unions as the exclusive representative for a group of workers are required to represent all employees equally, regardless of union membership status. Grande argued that HFT had breached its duty of fair representation and took the matter to the Board of Labor Relations.
HFT argued that since Moses was not motivated by hostility, the union did not breach its duty and that it was more a matter of not understanding the laws and requirements around representation of nonmembers. HFT has since updated training for its officers and established a grievance committee to consider such matters. HFT leadership had recently changed hands following a union election.
The Labor Relations Board, however, found the union had breached its duty and awarded Grande attorney’s fees, costs and interest for pursuing the complaint, requires HFT to post a copy of the decision for 60 consecutive days where Hartford school employees can see it, and notify the Labor Relations Board what steps they will take to comply with the order.
“We think the Union underestimates the inherent hostility in segregating a class of employees because they have ceased to financially support the Union,” the Labor Board wrote in their decision.
Grande was disciplined by the Board of Education after two colleagues complained about his reaction to mandatory training on privilege. He was issued a letter of reprimand, saying he had made inappropriate and unprofessional comments during the training. Grande has pushed back against that reprimand saying he was asked his opinion on the training and gave an honest answer.
HFT did file for arbitration on Grande’s behalf after they were made aware of their duty to fair representation, but it was too late, with more than six months elapsing between the second grievance denial and filing for arbitration, so their request was denied.