In the recent decision of Telecommunications Workers Union v. Telus Advanced Communications, (July 17, 2008) the Canada Industrial Relations Board ruled that, if an employer has employees’ basic personal contact information in its possession, it is statutorily obligated to provide that information to the union.
The collective agreement required Telus to provide TWU with a monthly list of bargaining unit employees and specified information, which did not include the employees’ home telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. The parties jointly applied to the Board for a declaratory opinion on the issue of whether the Canada Labour Code required the employer to provide the union with the home telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of bargaining unit members who were not union members.
TWU argued that, in order to fulfill its duties under the Code to bargain in good faith and fairly represent the employees in the bargaining unit, it must be able to communicate effortlessly will all employees. The union further argued that Telus had a concomitant duty to facilitate the union’s fulfillment of its duties by providing the union with the employees’ personal contact information.
Telus argued that:
1. it had no legal duty to provide TWU with the information sought;
2. providing more information than was agreed to in the collective agreement would undermine the integrity of the agreement; and
3. the employer had no obligation to disclose information that was not in its possession.
In response to Telus’ first argument, the Board stated that, while there is no explicit provision in the Code that obliges an employer to provide the union with employees’ personal contact information, many previous Board decisions have found that the union’s statutory obligations imposed a corresponding obligation on the employer to provide certain information to the union. The union does not need to provide the employer with a reason for its request; rather, the union is entitled to employees’ contact information by virtue of its position as bargaining agent. However, the Board cited two limits on the union’s entitlement:
1. the union may only use contact information for matters related to the individual’s employment, and;
2. the information may be withheld from the union when it was provided to the employer on the basis of an express guarantee of confidentiality.
In response to Telus’ argument that it need only provide the union with the information specified in the collective agreement, the Board stated that the employer has a duty to provide the union with the personal contact information it has collected, and any provision that seeks to limit the employer’s obligation is unenforceable.
The Board was persuaded by Telus’ third argument, however, and held that the employer is not obliged to collect personal contact information that it would not otherwise gather “solely for the purpose of providing it to the union.”
In this case, Telus was required to provide the union with the home telephone numbers of the employees. Telus was not required to pass along employees’ home e-mail addresses, however, since it did not collect that information for its own purposes.
This case confirms for employers the importance of providing the union with personal contact information for all employees who are represented by the union, including both union members and non-members. The provision of personal contact information is a statutory duty for employers, and cannot be limited by collective agreement language. Thus, an employer can avoid the potential hassle and cost of defending an unfair labour practice complaint by responding to a union’s request for the personal information of the employees in the bargaining unit if it has the requested information in its possession.