Exclusive Representation is the term used to describe a union’s legal right to represent all employees in a bargaining unit, even if an employee did not vote to join the union, or if an employee chooses to renounce his or her union membership.
Unions want the right of exclusive representation because it gives them monopoly power in negotiations with management. Under exclusive representation, workers cannot represent themselves in negotiations with management over wages or working conditions, belong to a different union than their coworkers, or choose another agent to represent them.
However, this also means the union representing a bargaining unit must bargain on behalf of all members of the unit, whether they are union members or not. This is called the “duty of fair representation.” The union must be reasonable, avoid arbitrary decision making, must operate in good faith, and cannot discriminate against employees who choose not to join or belong to the union. See Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171 (1967).