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In the pursuit of their duties, union stewards often need information in possession of Management. All such information pertaining to the legitimate needs of the union for bargaining, grievance handling, etc., must be made available to the union. Stewards need to know what types of information are available and how to ask for it. This page is intended to assist stewards (and grievant)  to get more familiar with this important topic.

This is an excerpt from the book “The Legal Rights of Union Stewards”, by Robert M. Schwartz, published by Work Rights Press.  The Legal Rights of Union Stewards can be ordered by clicking on the link

More Books by Robert M. Schwartz, Union labor lawyer 


Union Right to Information

One of the most useful tools in the NLRA is the right to obtain information from employers. Although this right is not explicit in the text of the NLRA, the Supreme Court has construed it from the requirement in Section 8(d) that employers and unions bargain collectively. Without access to information, unions cannot fulfill their responsibilities to negotiate, monitor, and enforce contracts. Refusals to provide information, or unreasonable delays, violate Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA.


Employers sometimes assert that union rights are restricted to information needed for contract negotiations. This is not true. In NLRB v. Acme Industrial Co. (1967), the Supreme Court ruled that employers must furnish unions with information relevant to grievances.

As a steward, you may request information to:

  • monitor compliance with the contract,
  • investigate whether a grievance exists,
  • prepare for a grievance meeting,
  • decide whether to drop a grievance or move it up the ladder, or
  • prepare for an arbitration hearing.

You can also request information when bargaining on midterm changes. (See Chapter 6.)

 The NLRB does not defer charges that allege a refusal to supply information.


The obligation of an employer to provide information is extremely broad. It includes relevant documents, data, and facts. Information is considered relevant if it might be useful to the union or could lead to the identification of useful information.

If management does not have the information in its possession, it must conduct a diligent effort to obtain it, including making requests of third parties with whom it has a relationship, such as contractors, customers, and parent corporations.

Preconditions, such as an insistence that the union not disclose information to outsiders, may not be imposed unless the information meets a strict test of confidentiality.

Information requests must be made in good faith. The request must relate to contract administration or bargaining, and the union must explain its reasons if asked by the employer. The union cannot use an information request for harassment purposes or to conduct a fishing expedition into the employer’s records.

 Information requests do more than obtain valuable data: they also discourage employers from violating the contract. Management may even settle a grievance to avoid supplying data or documents to the union. Information requests should be submitted for almost all  grievances..

Documents. You are entitled to examine a wide variety of records to investigate a grievance or to prepare for bargaining. Here are some of the documents you can request:


  • accident reports
  • bargaining agreements for
  • air quality studies other units or facilities
  • attendance records
  • bargaining notes
  • bid applications
  • bonus records
  • correspondence
  • customer complaints
  • customer lists
  • disciplinary records
  • EEO-1 reports
  • employer manuals, guidelines, and policies (including internal policies)
  • evaluations
  • first report of injury forms
  • health and safety audits
  • inspection records
  • interview notes
  • investigative reports
  • investigatory files
  • job assignment records
  • job descriptions
  • leave requests
  • memos
  • minutes of employer meetings
  • OSHA logs
  • payroll records
  • personnel files
  • photographs
  • schedules
  • seniority lists
  • supervisor notes
  • time cards
  • time study records
  • training manuals
  • videotapes

Data. Employers must provide the union with lists, statistics, and other relevant data – even if management must spend hours or longer putting it together. You can request data on prior disciplinary actions and overtime assignments. Employers are not excused from producing relevant data because of the size of the union’s request. Requests for data going back five years have been enforced by the NLRB.

Facts. Employers must answer pertinent factual inquiries. For a misconduct case, ask for the names and addresses of witnesses and descriptions of their testimony. For a subcontracting grievance, ask for a description of the work, the amount of the contract, and the reasons for the contract. For an arbitration hearing, ask for the names of persons that the employer intends to call to the stand.

General inquiries. Employers must respond to general inquiries such as:

  • Please supply all documents or records which refer to or reflect the factors causing you to reject this grievance.
  • Please supply all factual bases for the company’s decision.
  • Please provide all documents, reports, and other evidence utilized in making the decision to discipline the employee.

Disciplinary grievance. When grieving disciplinary action, always request a copy of the grievant’s personnel file. If unequal punishment is an argument in the case, ask for the names of other employees who have committed the same offense and the penalties imposed. In some circumstances, you can request information about supervisors and other non-unit employees.

Contract interpretation grievance. When a grievance concerns disputed contract language, the dates and contents of any information which the employer is relying on, and descriptions of any incident which the employer contends support its position.

Past practice grievance. If you are trying to enforce a past practice, and management denies that the practice has been consistent, ask for the dates and circumstances of all occasions on which management claims a departure from the practice.

Health and safety grievance. If you are grieving an unsafe substance, request copies of any OSHA citations, documents from the employer concerning the substance.

Discretionary leave grievance. If you are grieving the denial of a leave request, ask for records of requests by other employees over the past several years and the employer’s reasons for granting or not granting each request.

Information about non-unit employees. You may request information about employees outside of the bargaining unit, including supervisors, when that information is relevant to a grievance. For example, if a unit employee is accused of violating a rule which equally applies to non-unit employees, you can request the names of non-unit employees, including supervisors, who have violated the rule, a description of each infraction, and a description of any discipline imposed.

If you know of a particular non-unit employee or supervisor who has violated a rule that applies to unit and non-unit employees, you are entitled to information from the non-unit employee’s personnel file as well as any other records relevant to proving unequal discipline. Employer defenses based on the privacy of supervisors’ records have been rejected by the Board in these circumstances.

 Unions can prepare master information request forms and distribute them to stewards.


Employers often make excuses to avoid supplying relevant information. Here are some that the NLRB has rejected:

  • You can get the information from your members.
  • The request is too large.
  • The grievance has no merit.
  • The information has been posted.
  • The grievance is not arbitrable.
  •  You can subpoena the information to the arbitration.
  • Past grievances were resolved without this information.
  • The materials are privileged.
  • We will only give the information if you agree to give us similar information from union records.
  • No documents exist under that titleholder.
  • We will provide the information to the union if the grievance goes to a higher step.
  • The grievance is time-barred.

Confidentiality. The major exception to the duty to provide information is confidentiality. Confidentiality refers to information which is either highly personal or highly sensitive. Individually identified medical records, psychological data, and aptitude test scores usually meet the highly personal standard. Records revealing the employer’s trade secrets, profits and losses, and product research often meet the highly sensitive standard. Employee addresses, telephone numbers, wage data, personnel files, and disciplinary records are not confidential. Nor are internal reports or studies, even if self-critical of the employer.

To invoke the confidentiality defense, an employer must have a publicized and consistently enforced policy barring disclosure of the information in question. Moreover, the interests of the employer in preventing disclosure must outweigh the union’s need to obtain the requested information.

An employer that asserts confidentiality must do so at the time it initially refuses to supply the information. The employer must also offer to make an arrangement with the union that accommodates both the employer’s confidentiality concerns and the union’s need for the requested information.

Measures can usually be found to protect both sides. For example, if medical confidentiality is asserted, the employer can delete or black out the medical references. .


Under NLRB rules, an employer must respond promptly to a union information request. The acceptable time period, however, depends on the information requested.  Unreasonable delay is just as serious an NLRA violation as outright refusal.





Our LMOU requires that overtime be distributed equally. To check out an employee’s complaint, we asked for records of overtime assignments in his department. Payroll is refusing to comply unless we specify the name of the employee who complained. Do we have to?


No. According to the Board, a union is under no obligation to inform the employer of the specific nature of the grievance prior to obtaining the requested information.



Two employees were in a fight, but only one was suspended. Management is refusing to give us the file of the worker who was not suspended unless we obtain his written consent. Are we entitled to these records?


Yes. The personnel file of a bargaining unit employee must be turned over to the union with or without authorization from the employee and even over his objection.



When a worker was disciplined for absenteeism, I asked for the attendance records for all employees in her department. Management said the could not release the records because they contain confidential medical information. What are the union’s rights?


SEE ASMPDF Fillable Version




We asked management for a list of daily hours worked by employees over the past six months. Management said it will supply us with the time cards (over 1,000) but we will have to make our own computations. Is this sufficient?



Probably, yes. An employer that supplies information does not have to do so in the precise form requested by the union. However, it the employer has already computed the data in question, it must furnish it rather than put the union through unnecessary work.




We made an information request and received several documents. Can we make a second request based on what we learned from the first?





For a safety grievance, we asked for data about machine malfunctions over the past three years. Management is refusing on the grounds that the effort needed to assemble the information would be excessive. Is this a valid excuse?


No. The NLRB does not recognize limits to an employer’s obligation to provide relevant information. Even a burdensome request must be complied with, to the extent that it encompasses information to which the union is entitled. In one case involving allegations of discrimination in a large bargaining unit, an employer was ordered to supply data concerning hiring, seniority, job classifications, and promotions despite a claim that the request would entail almost 20,000 hours of clerical work.



Arbitration is scheduled for next month. Is it too late to request information?


No. The duty to furnish information applies to preparations for arbitration.



A worker was suspended for sexually harassing a female employee. In order to show unequal discipline, can we ask for the personnel file of a supervisor who did the same thing last year?


Yes. A union can request the personnel or disciplinary file of a supervisor if (1) the supervisor is subject to the same rule or standard of conduct as bargaining unit members, and (2) the union has a factual basis (such as a witness) for its allegation of similar misconduct by the supervisor.



A driver was fired for causing an accident. Management has compiled a detailed security report on the matter. Can we request it?


Yes. Investigative, security, and supervisory reports concerning an incident encompassed in a grievance must be disclosed to the union.



An employee was fired for stealing. Management says it has a witness. Is the union entitled to his name?


Yes. Except in two instances, an employer must tell the union the name and address of a witness, whether the witness is a fellow employee, a supervisor, or a customer. The exceptions are (1) if there is a history of union intimidation of witnesses;173 or (2) if the employer has promised the witness anonymity.

NOTE: An employer’s claim of confidentiality based on a promise of anonymity to a witness carries little weight unless the employer pledges not to call the witness to testify at a grievance or arbitration hearing.



Management claims to have written statements from two employees who saw a worker sleeping on the job. Are we entitled to see the statements?

A Yes.




An employee was fired for falsifying a doctor’s signature on a sickness and accident application. The employer claims to have a professional handwriting analysis. When we asked for it, the employer refused, saying we could hire our own expert. Do we have a right to see the company’s analysis?


Yes. A professional handwriting analysis is not a confidential document. It must be turned over to the union.



When we requested personnel files for a grievance, our manager said she could not give them to the union because of the U.S. Privacy Act. Is she right?


No. The U.S. Privacy Act does not restrict union access to grievance-related information. ASMPDF Fillable Version


Abbreviations In the Text


Administrative Support Manual


National Labor Relations Board


National Labor Relations Act


Occupational Safety and Health Administration


Unfair Labor Practice




Unfair Labor Practice Employee Assistance Program Picketing
Bargaining Unit: Free Rider Scab
Certification Fringe Benefits Seniority
Collective Bargaining Agreement Labor Relations Board Sexual Harassment

 Bargaining Unit: A group of employees in a given workplace who have a sufficient similarity of interest to constitute a unit for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employer. A bargaining unit is usually defined by the National Labor Relations Board, or similar federal, state or local agency. top

Certification: Official recognition by a labor relations board that an employee organization is the exclusive representative for all the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit for the purpose of collective bargaining. top

Contract, or Collective Bargaining Agreement: A formal written agreement over wages, hours and conditions of employment entered into by an employer and the union representing the employees in the bargaining unit. top

Employee Assistance Program: A confidential information, support and referral service designed to help employees cope with personal problems which have a negative impact on their lives and, subsequently, on their work productivity. Deteriorating job performance can lead to an employer taking disciplinary action. Such programs often provide assistance in such situations as emotional stress, marital and family problems, financial and legal difficulties, and drug or alcohol abuse. top

Free Rider: An employee who chooses not to join the union that has negotiated the contract over his/her wages and working conditions, and who reaps the benefits from that contract.

Fringe Benefits: Vacations, holidays, insurance, medical benefits, pensions and other economic benefits that are provided to employees under the union contract; these are in addition to direct wages. top

Labor Relations Board: Quasi-judicial agency set up under national or state labor relations acts. Its duties are: defining appropriate bargaining units; holding elections to determine if workers want union representation; certifying unions to represent employees; and applying legal provisions prohibiting certain employer or union unfair labor practices. top

Picketing: The carrying of signs or the passing out of literature protesting working conditions or actions taken by the employer. Picketing occurs during a strike, or in the form of an informational picket. In this tactic, designed to put pressure on the employer, union members inform the public and other workers about the conditions they feel are unfair. top

Representation Election: A vote conducted by an appropriate labor board or agency to determine whether a majority of the workers in a previously established bargaining unit want to be represented by a given union. top

Scab: A person who continues to work, or who accepts employment, while the workers are on strike. By filling the jobs of striking workers, and keeping the employer operational, scabs may weaken or help break the strike. top

Seniority: Length of service with an employer. Based on their seniority, preference can be accorded to employees in such areas as promotion, transfer, shift assignment, scheduling, vacation accrual, layoff, recall, etc. top

Sexual Harassment: Any unwarranted and repeated sexual comments, looks, suggestions or physical contact that create an uncomfortable working environment for an employee. Sexual harassment is against the law (see pages 40-41).top

Unfair Labor Practice: An employer or union practice forbidden by the National Labor Relations Act, the Civil Service Reform Act (for federal workers), or state and local laws, subject to court appeal. It often involves the employer’s efforts to avoid bargaining a contract in good faith. Other examples of possible ULPs are when management fails to provide information the union has requested and needs to process a grievance, or when management repeatedly fails to implement grievance settlements or arbitration awards. top

(disclaimer) Always seek the advice of your local, regional or national union representatives pertaining to request for information.   

Back to Your Rights


No. 52


385 U.S. 432

 Argued November 14, 1966

 January 9, 1967



COUNSEL:   Norton J. Come argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Marshall, Arnold Ordman, Dominick L. Manoli and Nancy M. Sherman.

E. Allan Kovar argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.

Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., John Silard, Stephen I. Schlossberg and Harriett R. Taylor filed a brief for Amalgamated Local Union No. 310, UAW, AFL-CIO, intervenor.

JUDGES:   Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Fortas


OPINION:   MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In NLRB v. C & C Plywood Corp., ante, p. 421, decided today, we dealt with one aspect of an employer's duty to bargain during the term of a collective bargaining agreement. In this case we deal with another - involving the obligation to furnish information that allows a union to decide whether to process a grievance.

In April 1963, at  [*4]  the conclusion of a strike, the respondent entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the union which was the certified representative of its employees. The agreement contained two sections relevant to this case. Article I, § 3, provided, "It is the Company's general policy not to subcontract work which is normally performed by employees in the bargaining unit where this will cause the layoff of employees or prevent the recall of employees who would normally perform this work . . ." In Art. VI, § 10, the respondent agreed that "[in] the event the equipment of the plant ... is hereafter moved to another location of the Company, employees working in the plant ... who are subject to reduction in classification or layoff as a result thereof may transfer to the new location with full rights and seniority, unless there is then in existence at the new location a collective bargaining agreement covering ... employees at such location." A grievance procedure culminating in compulsory and binding arbitration was also incorporated into the collective agreement.

The present controversy began in January 1964, when the union discovered that certain  [*5]  machinery was being removed from the respondent's plant. When asked by union representatives about this movement, the respondent's foremen replied that there had been no violation of the collective agreement and that the company, therefore, was not obliged to answer any questions regarding the machinery. After this rebuff, the union filed 11 grievances charging the respondent with violations of the above quoted clauses of the collective agreement. The president of the union then wrote a letter to the respondent, requesting "the following information at the earliest possible date:

"1. The approximate dates when each piece of equipment was moved out of the plant.

"2. The place to which each piece of equipment was moved and whether such place is a facility which is operated or controlled by the Company.

"3. The number of machines or equipment that was moved out of the plant.

"4. What was the reason or purpose of moving the equipment out of the plant.

"5.Is this equipment used for production elsewhere."
The company replied by letter that it had no duty to furnish this information since no layoffs or reductions in job classification had occurred within five  [*6]  days (the time limitation set by the contract for filing grievances) prior to the union's formal request for information.

This refusal prompted the union to file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. A complaint was issued, and the Board, overruling its trial examiner, held the respondent had violated § 8 (a) (5) of the Act n1 by refusing to bargain in good faith. Accordingly, it issued a cease-and-desist order. The Board found that the information requested was "necessary in order to enable the Union to evaluate intelligently the grievances filed" and pointed out that the agreement contained no "clause by which the Union waives its statutory right to such information."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - Footnotes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

n1 National Labor Relations Act, as amended, 61 Stat. 141, 29 U.S.C. § 158 (a) (5).

- - - - - - - - - - - - End Footnotes- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit refused to enforce the Board's order. 351 F. 2d 258. It did not question the relevance of the information nor the finding that the union  [*7]  had not expressly waived its right to the information. The court ruled, however, that the existence of a provision for binding arbitration of differences concerning the meaning and application of the agreement foreclosed the Board from exercising its statutory power. The court cited United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Co., 363 U.S. 574, and United Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, as articulating a national labor policy favoring arbitration and requiring the Board's deference to an arbitrator when construction and application of a labor agreement are in issue. We granted certiorari to consider the substantial question of federal labor law thus presented. 383 U.S. 905.

There can be no question of the general obligation of an employer to provide information that is needed by the bargaining representative for the proper performance  [*8]  of its duties. Labor Board v. Truitt Mfg. Co., 351 U.S. 149. Similarly, the duty to bargain unquestionably extends beyond the period of contract negotiations and applies to labor-management relations during the term of an agreement. NLRB v. C & C Plywood Corp., ante, p. 421; Labor Board v. F.W. Woolworth Co., 352 U.S. 938. The only real issue in this case, therefore, is whether the Board must await an arbitrator's determination of the relevancy of the requested information before it can enforce the union's statutory rights under § 8 (a) (5).

The two cases upon which the court below relied, and the third of the Steelworkers trilogy, United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, do not throw much light on the problem. For those cases dealt with the relationship of courts to arbitrators when an arbitration award is under review or when the employer's agreement to arbitrate is in question. The weighing of the arbitrator's greater institutional competency, which was so vital to those decisions, must be evaluated in that context. 363 U.S., at 567, 581-582, 596-597. The relationship  [*9]  of the Board to the arbitration process is of a quite different order. See Carey v. Westinghouse Corp., 375 U.S. 261, 269-272. Moreover, in assessing the Board's power to deal with unfair labor practices, provisions of the Labor Act which do not apply to the power of the courts under § 301, n2 must be considered. Section 8 (a) (5) proscribes failure to bargain collectively in only the most general terms, but § 8 (d) amplifies it by defining "to bargain collectively" as including "the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to ... any question arising [under an agreement] ..." n3 And § 10 (a) n4 provides: "The Board is empowered ... to prevent any person from engaging in any unfair labor practice . . . This power shall not be affected by any other means of adjustment or prevention that has been or may be established by agreement, law, or otherwise ..." Thus, to view the Steelworkers decisions as automatically requiring the Board in this case to defer  [*10]  to the primary determination of an arbitrator n5 is to overlook important distinctions between those cases and this one.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - Footnotes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

n2 Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. § 185.

n3 Cf. United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Co., 363 U.S. 574, 581: "The grievance procedure is, in other words, a part of the continuous collective bargaining process."

n4 61 Stat. 146, 29 U.S.C. § 160 (a).

n5 See Sinclair Refining Co. v. N.L.R.B., 306 F. 2d 569, 570 (C.A. 5th Cir.).

- - - - - - - - - - - - End Footnotes- - - - - - - - - - - - - - [3]
But even if the policy of the Steelworkers Cases were thought to apply with the same vigor to the Board as to the courts, that policy would not require the Board to abstain here. For when it ordered the employer to furnish the requested information to the union, the Board was not making a binding construction of the labor contract. It was  [*11]  only acting upon the probability that the desired information was relevant, and that it would be of use to the union in carrying out its statutory duties and responsibilities. This discovery-type standard decided nothing about the merits of the union's contractual claims. n6 When the respondent furnishes the requested information, it may appear that no subcontracting or work transfer has occurred, and, accordingly, that the grievances filed are without merit. On the other hand, even if it appears that such activities have taken place, an arbitrator might uphold the respondent's contention that no breach of the agreement occurred because no employees were laid off or reduced in grade within five days prior to the filing of any grievance. Such conclusions would clearly not be precluded by the Board's threshold determination concerning the potential relevance of the requested information. Thus, the assertion of jurisdiction by the Board in this case in no way threatens the power which the parties have given the arbitrator to make binding interpretations of the labor agreement. n7
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - Footnotes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

n6 Cf. 4 Moore, Federal Practice P26.16[1], 1175-1176 (2d ed.):

"[It] must be borne in mind that the standard for determining relevancy at a discovery examination is not as well defined as at the trial. ... Since the matters in dispute between the parties are not as well determined at discovery examinations as at the trial, courts of necessity must follow a more liberal standard as to relevancy."

Id., at 1181:

"Examination as to relevant matters should be allowed whether or not the theory of the complaint is sound or the facts, if proved, would support the relief sought."  [*12] 

n7 This case, therefore, differs from NLRB v. C & C Plywood Corp., ante, p. 421, where the Board's determination that the employer did not have a contractual right to institute a premium pay plan was a determination on the merits. See C & C Plywood, ante, at 426, and n. 10.

- - - - - - - - - - - - End Footnotes- - - - - - - - - - - - - - [4]
Far from intruding upon the preserve of the arbitrator, the Board's action was in aid of the arbitral process. Arbitration can function properly only if the grievance procedures leading to it can sift out unmeritorious claims. For if all claims originally initiated as grievances had to be processed through to arbitration, the system would be woefully overburdened. Yet, that is precisely what the respondent's restrictive view would require. It would force the union to take a grievance all the way through to arbitration without providing the opportunity to evaluate  [*13]  the merits of the claim. n8 The expense of arbitration might be placed upon the union only for it to learn that the machines had been relegated to the junk heap. Nothing in federal labor law requires such a result.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - Footnotes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

n8 See Fafnir Bearing Co. v. N.L.R.B., 362 F. 2d 716, 721:

"By preventing the Union from conducting these studies [for an intelligent appraisal of its right to grieve], the Company was, in essence, requiring it to play a game of blind man's bluff."

- - - - - - - - - - - - End Footnotes- - - - - - - - - - - - - - [6]
We hold that the Board's order in this case was consistent both with the express terms of the Labor Act and with the national labor policy favoring arbitration which our decisions have discerned as underlying that law. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and remand the case to the Court of Appeals with directions to enforce the Board's order.

Reversed and  [*14]  remanded.