On October 23, 2012, the National Labor Relations Board held, in a 2-1 decision, that an employer has an obligation under the National Labor Relations Act to respond in a timely manner to a union information request, even if the requested information is ultimately found to be irrelevant to the union’s performance of its duties as the employees’ collective bargaining representative.

In IronTiger Logistics, Inc., the employer was a unionized trucking company that shared common ownership with another non-union trucking company called TruckMovers.com, Inc.  The union representing IronTiger’s employees made a written request to IronTiger that principally sought information regarding the non-union truck drivers employed by TruckMovers.  The information request also sought some information relating to bargaining unit employees, such as the names of the truck drivers for each unit, their destination and mileage, and communications from customers about those units.

IronTiger did not respond to the union’s information request until approximately four and a half months later — after the union had filed an unfair labor practice charge over IronTiger’s failure to provide a response to the information request.  In its response, IronTiger did not provide any of the requested information, but instead stated its belief that all of the requested information was irrelevant.

The Administrative Law Judge who presided over the unfair labor practice hearing agreed with IronTiger that the information requested by the union was irrelevant to the union’s performance of its duties as the employees’ collective bargaining representative.  In addition, there was no dispute regarding the adequacy of IronTiger’s response explaining why the requested information was irrelevant.  However, the ALJ nevertheless held that IronTiger’s failure to respond in some manner to the irrelevant information request for approximately four and a half months constituted a refusal to bargain in good faith in violation of Section 8(a)(5) of the Act.

The two-member majority of the Board agreed with the ALJ’s analysis, and held that employers have an obligation under the Act to respond within a reasonable time to union information requests, regardless of whether those requests are deemed to be irrelevant.  Member Hayes wrote a dissenting opinion, in which he reasoned:  "Ultimately, requested information is either legally relevant to a union’s representative duties, or it is not.  If it is not relevant, then the statutory duty to bargain in good faith is not implicated by the request or the employer’s failure to respond timely to the request."

Based on the Board’s IronTiger decision, employers should make sure to respond within a reasonable time in some manner to all information requests made by a union representing their employees, even if the response is just a brief explanation of the employer’s position that the requested information is irrelevant.  If an employer believes that a union information request is overly broad or unduly burdensome, the employer should make a good faith effort to work with the union to narrow the scope of the request.