When in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, contractors often wonder whether they can or should communicate with employees regarding negotiation status. While there are some legal issues to keep in mind, the primary considerations are practical instead of legal.
Avoid Direct Dealing
When communicating with employees during negotiations, the primary legal concern is “direct dealing.” This occurs when the employer attempts to bypass the union and negotiate directly with employees. For example, asking employees whether they support the union’s bargaining position or making proposals to bargaining unit members that were not first presented the union.
Be a Resource for Employees
Contractors who wish to communicate with their employees regarding the status of negotiations should focus on providing succinct, accurate information regarding bargaining. For example, a short summary of what was exchanged and even copies of the proposals can be disseminated to employees after they are exchanged at the bargaining table. While contractors are free to communicate to employees that it believes its bargaining proposals are reasonable and that employees should tell the union to accept them, as noted above, the contractor should not “engage in a direct effort to determine employee sentiment” or make any attempt to bypass the union.
In addition, when the time comes for ratification, contractors should solicit a “full recommendation” from the union’s bargaining committee. This can be included in the final tentative agreement. Then, the contractor may wish to provide a summary of the tentative agreements to bargaining unit employees. This can help increase support for ratification of the final agreement.
As long as they aren’t “directly dealing” with employees, contractors have a good deal of freedom in communication with employees regarding the status of negotiations. Contractors can use this to their advantage if they believe their employees need to be kept better appraised of negotiations. Contractors also do not need to wait until the end (or near the end) of negotiations to communicate with employees. A contractor’s message is more credible when they have established a regular cadence of communication during bargaining.