February 1, 2013: Using your union's legal right to acquire information from the employer can help you defend your rights and win grievances and arbitrations.
This right is established by the National Labor Relations Act.
Unfortunately, many members don't know about this right, and many union representatives don't use it unless members specifically ask them to.
This article outlines some of the basics of the right to information and how to use it. You will need more detailed information to effectively put this into practice. You can order two books from TDU that outline your rights under the grievance procedure in more detail.
When can you request information?
- The union may request information to:
- monitor the employer's compliance with the contract.
- investigate whether a grievance exists.
- prepare for a grievance meeting.
- decide whether to drop or prioritize a grievance.
- prepare for an arbitration hearing.
What can you request?
The obligation of an employer to provide information is extremely broad. It includes relevant documents, data, and facts. Information is considered relevant if it might be useful to the union or could lead to the identification of useful information.
How specific does the request have to be?
Information requests can be quite general. For example, employers must respond to broad inquiries such as:
- "Please supply all documents or records which refer to or reflect the factors causing you to reject this grievance."
- "Please supply all factual bases for the company's decision."
- "Please provide all documents, reports, and other evidence utilized in making the decision to discipline the employee."
Management may complain that such information requests are "fishing expeditions," but this language has been upheld by the NLRB, which has ordered employers to comply.
These kinds of requests can be extremely useful in nailing down management's position so that they cannot shift their argument later in the grievance procedure or at arbitration.
Other information requests can be very specific. The union is entitled to a wide variety of specific documents. See examples in the box accompanying this article.
What if management refuses to provide the information?
Refusals to provide information or unreasonable delays violate Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act. The union can file an unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB if the company refuses to cooperate with an information request.
Who can request information from the employer?
Only shop stewards and union officers can request information from the company. Although shop stewards can request information, if the employer is intent on blocking the request or stalling, the backing of the business agent can be crucial to winning an NLRB charge. So whenever possible, it is best to get your business agent on board with an information request.
What can you do with a timid business agent?
Many business agents aggressively use information requests as a tactic to win grievances. If you are worried that your business agent might not be eager to request the information, ask them to request information from the company and explain specifically in writing what information you would like them to request.
What Information You Can Request and When to Request It
The union is entitled to examine a wide variety of records to investigate a grievance or to prepare for bargaining.
Documents. The union is entitled to examine a wide variety of records to investigate a grievance or to prepare for bargaining. Examples include: accident reports, air quality studies, attendance records, bargaining agreements for other units or facilities, bargaining notes, bonus records, contracts with customers, suppliers and contractors, correspondence, customer lists, disciplinary records, employer manuals, guidelines and policies, evaluations, interview notes, investigative reports, job descriptions, memos, schedules, time cards, videotapes, wage and salary records.
Data. Employers must provide the union with lists, statistics, and other relevant data even if management must spend hours or longer putting it together. You can request data on prior disciplinary actions, promotional patterns, and overtime assignments. Employers are not excused from producing relevant data because of the size of the union's request, although the employer can bargain on reimbursement for its costs. Requests for data going back five years have been enforced by the NLRB.
Facts. Employers must answer pertinent factual inquiries. For a misconduct case, ask for the names and addresses of witnesses and descriptions of their testimony. For an arbitration hearing, ask for the names of persons the employer intends to call to the stand.
Disciplinary grievance. When grieving disciplinary action, always request a copy of the grievant's personnel file. If unequal punishment is an argument in the case, ask for the names of other employees who have committed the same offense and the penalties imposed.
Contract interpretation grievance. When a grievance concerns disputed contract language, request the employers bargaining notes from the session during which the clause was negotiated, the dates and contents of any union statements upon which the employer is relying, and descriptions of any incident which the employer says supports its position.
TDU can advise you on what information you should request to help you strengthen your grievance. Contact us for more information.