Just Cause: A Union Guide to Winning Discipline Cases

Anyone who is a union official has most likely heard the name Robert Schwartz and used one of his books to frame an argument or defend a member. His book The Legal Rights of Union Stewards is standard training fare for all newly elected stewards in my union, the Communications Workers. His other books on past practice, FMLA, and strike campaigns are all must-reads for any officer who wants to be informed and prepared to fight for the members.

We at CWA 1298 have the distinct advantage of living near Robert Schwartz. He has spoken to our officers at the local, leaving us energized and informed and ready to go out and kick some management butt. The other officers and I use his books on an almost daily basis to fight ATT, one of the worst companies for violations of contract language. Without Schwartz’s books and guidance, our jobs would be much harder.

Just Cause: A Union Guide to Winning Discipline CasesJust Cause: A Union Guide to Winning Discipline Cases

by Robert M. Schwartz. $20. 175 pages.

With his latest, Just Cause: A Union Guide to Winning Discipline Cases, Schwartz has hit one out of the proverbial ballpark. Like all his books, it is easy to read and understand. He writes not in the tone or language of an attorney (which he is) but with an easy writing style that anyone can understand and use directly out of the gate.

Before reading this book I thought that I knew all about “just cause” for discipline and the seven basic principles known as the Daugherty tests. I quickly saw that I still had much to learn from the specific examples Schwartz gave.

He lays out his version of the seven tests of just cause like this:

  • Fair Notice: Workers have to know of the rule they are accused of violating.
  • Prior Enforcement: Management can’t start suddenly enforcing a rule that has gone unenforced for a long time.
  • Due Process: Management must conduct an interview or a hearing before issuing discipline, and can’t increase the discipline after the fact.
  • Substantial Proof: Discipline should be based on sound evidence, not rumors.
  • Equal Treatment: Those committing the same offense should not receive “disparate treatment."
  • Progressive Discipline: The employer should start with lesser penalties rather than moving immediately to suspension or firing.
  • Mitigating and Extenuating Circumstances: Discipline must be proportional to the gravity of the offense, taking circumstances into account.

Schwartz covers scenarios such as sleeping on the job, dealing with substance abuse, friction with supervisors (how much verbal abuse is allowed?), off-duty conduct, computer misconduct, and other issues that stewards deal with on any given day while defending our members. He also goes into management-rights clauses, the timelines of filing NLRB charges, and how to best represent a member in an investigatory interview.

Schwartz cites real arbitration cases to show how each case was won or lost, and includes the case numbers so you can look them up, read the case history and testimony, and see how the arbitrator ruled and why. The notes section has a brief description of each case cited in the book and explains the significance of each.

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The book gives tips on what you should do and what questions you should ask, along with what you should avoid. It gives advice on how to fight, and when to walk away and fight at a later time: “obey first, grieve later.” The questions and answers at the end of each chapter are very helpful. And Schwartz includes his email address with an invitation to contact him with any questions.

The book is an easy read and holds your attention, while teaching you how to be a better defender of your membership. Every chief steward and steward at CWA 1298 will have this book as a part of their arsenal to defend our members.

Sample Q&A’s

Q. Can management discipline a worker for refusing an instruction to sign a warning slip?

A. Yes, if the signing simply acknowledges receipt; no, if the signature admits guilt. The safest approach is to sign and add the words: “signed under protest.”

Q. During an argument over a provision in the contract, a rank-and-file employee called her boss an “idiot.” Can we argue that her language is protected?

A. Yes. Under NLRB precedent, an employee who is attempting to enforce a union contract can venture beyond the usual boundaries of workplace etiquette (although not as far as can a union representative).


Charles Borchert is a business agent for CWA Local 1298 in Connecticut. To order, click here.