Workers' Compensation

California: Former Union Member Not Bound to Arbitration for His Work Injury Claim

In what appears to be a case of first impression, the issue before a WCAB panel was whether an employee, who was a former union member, could be bound to arbitration.
In Chamberlain v. Irwin Industries, Inc., 2013 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS – (May 13, 2013), the WCAB, denying defendant employer’s petition for reconsideration, and adopting and incorporating the WCJ’s Report, affirmed the WCAB’s jurisdiction over applicant’s case and that Labor Code section 3201.5 [3201.5] does not compel arbitration of applicant’s case.
Here, the defendant employer and the employee union agreed to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program, which was approved by the Administrative Director. Applicant withdrew from the union membership with the defendant employer’s approval prior to the industrial injury and prior to the renewal of the ADR agreement.
The WCJ additionally noted that, once applicant withdrew from the union membership, applicant received no benefit from the union, applicant’s paychecks contained no deductions for union dues, and it was questionable whether the ADR agreement still applied to him as he had become a management employee of the defendant.
The WCJ pointed out that there are no reported cases in which a former union member has been bound to arbitration under Labor Code section 3201.5 [3201.5], that other California court cases enforcing arbitration agreements were either not on point or distinguishable from the case at bar, and that the defendant’s “renewed [ADR agreement] should not be applied or forced upon [applicant] whether in equity or due to public policy.”
Finally, the WCJ examined the operative wording of the ADR agreement in question and found no proof whatsoever “that applicant was either ‘covered by the UNION collective bargaining agreement at the time of injury’ or that he was ‘subject to the provisions of the agreement by subscription or law”.

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