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A Fresh Look at Just Cause

Extracted from: Steward Update: Volume Twenty-Four, Number One

Most union contracts in the United States and Canada include a Just Cause clause to protect members against arbitrary and unfair discipline. Some contracts use equivalent terms, such as “proper” or “good” cause.
 
In many ways, just cause is the keystone of the union contract. Without it, many other provisions would be undermined as employers could easily fire workers to avoid pensions or higher wages or fire union leaders who insist on strict contract compliance.
 
On its face, the term “just Cause” is open to many interpretations. Some managers view it as simply requiring a good faith reason for taking disciplinary action.
 
But years of forceful union advocacy have persuaded labor judges (arbitrators) that the concept includes multiple elements such as fair notice, due process, and equal treatment.
 
In 1965 arbitrator Carroll Daugherty identified seven necessary elements of just cause. His list of “tests” has been widely circulated, especially by unions, which have used it as a checklist in preparing and presenting grievances.
 
The seven elements of Just Cause are:
  • The employee knew of the company’s policy
  • The company’s policy was reasonable
  • The company investigated to determine that the employee violated the policy
  • The investigation was fair and objective
  • Substantial evidence existed of the employee’s violation of the policy
  • The company’s policy was consistently applied
  • The discipline was reasonable and proportional (the punishment fit the crime)