Q. I run a nonunion construction contracting company. We recently received a letter from a union stating that they believe we are paying substandard wages and benefits. The letter asked us to provide any information we might have to show that they are wrong and that we are paying area standard compensation to our people. Does the union have a right to this information?
A. No, the union does not have a right to this information, and you are not under any obligation to respond to the letter.
You should be aware, though, that this is probably not the end of the story. This is a union organizing tactic that is common in the construction industry. The union is likely to take further steps if it does not receive a response from you indicating that you are paying wages and benefits at union-contract levels.
They may send a similar letter, for example, to the owner of the construction site who is your customer. If that does not get the result the union it is seeking, its next steps may include hand-billing the public at the construction site with claims that you are paying substandard wages and benefits.
The union may also start “bannering” the job site with a large sign announcing a labor dispute and trying to shame you into signing a union contract, or pressuring the property owner into discharging your company if you don’t.
Assuming you are not willing to sign a union contract or otherwise agree to pay the levels of compensation the union is demanding, there may be little you can do but wait out the union.
You will need to communicate with the property owner and come to an understanding about the events that could unfold. If the owner is willing to cover increased costs (perhaps to avoid adverse publicity) you can communicate with the union and probably temporarily work something out for this particular job.
Any such deal should not include signing a union contract unless you intend to permanently become a union contractor. Signing a contract will not be limited to this job. It will follow you to all your jobs, even if the union tells you something different. On the other hand, if you do work something out with the union for this job short of signing a contract, the union is likely to continue making trouble for you on future jobs.
Since your viable options in this situation are limited, it is important to work closely with the property owner and your own labor attorney to strategize a response to the union that will optimize the likelihood of an acceptable result for you and avoid as much trouble as possible.
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