Steward's Corner: Info Requests Can Cool an Overzealous Boss
How many times has this happened in your shop or department? A new supervisor or manager takes over and announces that he/she is "not going to let the union tell him/her how to run this business."
What usually ensues from this bold pronouncement is a frontal assault on the union in the form of a disciplinary action campaign against various union members for minor infractions.
Members begin receiving verbal and written warnings for infractions that were previously handled informally or were not considered serious enough to warrant disciplinary action.
One strategy with which stewards and union representatives can handle overzealous supervisors and managers and (re)gain control of the shop floor is through the pyramiding of grievances, information requests, and charges at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Be forewarned: this strategy is time-consuming and can raise the stakes between management and the union. But there lies the strength of the strategy-it's time-consuming and expensive for management as well.
THE ART OF INFO REQUESTS
As part of the employer's Duty to Bargain obligation under the Wagner Act, the employer must provide information relevant to the bargaining unit that has been requested by the union.
This is part and parcel of the bargaining relationship between the parties; thus, information requests may occur at any time.
Information requests may be presented before or after a grievance is filed, they may be attached to the grievance, or they may be of a continuing nature.
Since the employer is obligated to provide requested information, the filing of a grievance should always include an information request.
The writing of information requests can become an art form. When writing information requests the general rule of thumb is: information requested by the union that pertains to bargaining unit members is presumed to be relevant.
Therefore, the burden falls on the employer to disprove its relevance.
Information requested by the union that pertains to anyone not in the bargaining unit is not presumed to be relevant and the burden shifts to the union to prove its relevance.
Carefully crafted information requests that fulfill the presumptively relevant threshold and are then denied in whole or in part by the employer open the door for the filing of 8(a)(5) charges at the NLRB.
In addition, the denial of the information request also opens the door for another grievance to be filed over that denial.
Remember, by denying the information request, the employer has violated their Duty to Bargain obligation, and grievances may be filed on violations of the law.
When the second grievance is filed over the failure to provide the information, this provides for the filing of another information request.
Let's take a tally at this point: we have two grievances filed with the employer, we have two information requests filed with the employer, and we have one charge filed with the NLRB.
If the employer denies the second information request, we get the opportunity to file another ULP charge, another grievance, and yes, another information request, and on and on.
Always make sure that you have proof that the employer received the information request. You can do this by making the supervisor or manager sign for the request, or by sending it certified U.S. mail, return receipt requested.
Remember also, all of these elements carry various time limits that must be policed.
When each initial information request is made, add plain language to the end asking that the information be provided to the union in a timely manner not to exceed 7 or 10 days. If the request is denied, renew your request and ask for the information to be provided to the union in three days.
This lays the groundwork for the ULP charges. It may be puzzling, but the NLRB always expects the union to ask for the information twice.
As you might imagine, the employer's expenses in terms of time, energy, person-hours, copying costs, and possibly attorney's fees can mount quickly and can be staggering.
Even after the filing of the NLRB charge, the employer may refuse to provide the union with the requested information. Not to worry, the NLRB will make the employer provide it to the board agent assigned to the case.
The NLRB will request the information so that it can decide if, in fact, the requested information is relevant and thus must be provided to the union.
TIME, MONEY COSTS
Either way, the employer has to spend the time and the money. You can see how this can quickly turn into a time-consuming and money-consuming prospect for an employer.
It costs the union time and money as well, but there is no fee to file an NLRB charge, nor are there any fees to file grievances and information requests.
At some point, someone up the management chain begins to take a look at the mounting bills and human resources disruption.
Make no mistake, hours spent answering NLRB charges and numerous grievances, as well as hours spent providing information to either the union or the NLRB, are a disruption.
They are also a distraction from the normal flow of work for the Human Resources department.
This pyramiding of grievances and information requests upon NLRB charges can continue as long as the union wishes.
The union must not go down this road haphazardly, however. This strategy demands attention to detail, determination, and perseverance. The stewards must maintain the highest standards of professional conduct during this period.
The disciplinary actions or unilateral changes may intensify for a period, but many managers do not have the stamina to maintain the paper war involved in this strategy.
Moreover, under this type of intense pressure many management personnel have solved the problem by reassigning the supervisor in question or forcing him or her to back off and work toward labor peace.