Knowledge is power. The more information concerning employer operations a Union can marshal, the more effective it will be in representing its members. Fortunately, under the NLRA, employers have a legal duty to provide the Union with information relevant to its ability to engage in collective bargaining, administer a collective bargaining agreement, or to investigate and pursue a grievance. The duty to provide information arises under Section 9 the of the NLRA, which requires the employer to bargain in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. An employer’s failure to respond to a Union’s information request can result in a finding that the employer has violated the statute – committed an unfair labor practice – by failing to bargain in good faith.
This duty the NLRA places on employers arises when the Union seeks relevant information. If the information goes to the core of the employer-employee relationship – information on such things as wages, hours, and other working conditions – the request is presumed to be relevant. If the request does not address those core issues, the Union still has a right to the information if it can show its relevance. This is not a difficult showing. The Union need only identify evidence showing that the information would be useful to the Union in carrying out its statutory duties and responsibilities.
Generally, the NLRA applies only to employees working in the private sector, and not to employees who work for federal, state, or local governments. In Kansas, many public employees work under a similar statute, the Kansas Public Employer Employee Relations Act (“PEERA”). In a recent case handled by this firm, the Kansas administrative body responsible for enforcing PEERA, the Public Employee Relations Board, found that public employers have a similar responsibility to provide information to the employees’ bargaining representative.
This finding followed a trend where, in recent years, the Kansas PERB has held that there is a statutory duty for employers to turn over documents to public employee unions as part of the “meet and confer” process contained in PEERA. Public employers in Kansas have an obligation to provide relevant information needed by Unions to investigate potential grievances and to fulfill their statutory obligations as the exclusive bargaining representative of their members. This not only applies to meeting and conferring over terms and conditions of employment, but also to resolve grievances, both formal and informal.
It is always in a Union’s interest to know everything it can about the working conditions of the employees it represents and about the employer responsible for those working conditions. Fortunately, labor relations statutes give Unions an effective tool to gain the power that comes with knowledge. If you need more information about these statutory rights, please contact us.