The collective bargaining process is one of the most effective tools unions can use to negotiate for higher wages, better health benefits, and other employment terms. Since this bargaining process is so crucial to establishing and maintaining good working conditions for employees, some unwritten customs, precedents, and informal agreements come into play.
Currently, there are no laws that require both sides to reach a final binding agreement, although if the parties adhere to the expected good-faith duties, it becomes easier to reach an agreement. What is required, however, is that the employer must meet with the employees' representative, provided a majority of the workers support the representative's authority. Another requirement is that during the bargaining process, all parties are expected to act in good faith. While "good faith" is hard to define, courts will nonetheless make a determination on whether a party does not fully comply with the standards.
Acting in good and bad faith
In most instances, one party's denial to provide requested information to the other party may constitute bad faith. For instance, if a union requests accounting information from the employer in order to accurately determine whether an increase in workers' wages was feasible, the employer has a good-faith duty to provide the information.
A court will distinguish between an employer's ability to pay for a wage increase and if that wage increase will result in a competitive disadvantage for the company. Only an employer who specifically claims that he or she would be unable to increase wages would be required to hand over financial information. Whereas an employer who claims that giving a raise to employees would lead to a competitive disadvantage would not be required to disclose the financial information.
Employers have a duty to negotiate with good faith during the collective bargaining process.
It should be noted that not all refusals to disclose information necessarily lead to a finding of bad faith. For example, say an employer takes a survey or test of his or her employees that includes workers' confidential information. If the union wants the results, the dissemination of confidential information could violate the employees' right to privacy. In this case, by not providing the union with the information, the employer is not acting in bad faith.
Who can help?
If you think your employer is acting in bad faith during the collective bargaining process, you'll need experienced legal professionals in your corner. The employment lawyers at Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria have a long and proud history of securing justice for hardworking Americans. Our Buffalo, New York-based firm was founded on the principles of worker advocacy and our labor and employment lawyers have been names to U.S. News & World Report's "Best Law Firms" for Labor Law—Union, Employment Law, and Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law.
This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.