If a company has a union, does the employer have to negotiate with the union before changing or implementing safety policies? Yes.
A company violated labor law when it unilaterally implemented a policy at a manufacturing facility that required workers to wear flame-resistant clothing at all times. Prior to the implementation of that policy, employees did not have to wear such clothing unless performing certain tasks.
Applicable safety regulations only required flame-resistant clothing to be worn in specific areas or when using some equipment, such as welding equipment. The company did not offer the chance for the union to bargain over this change. The NLRB found that this change materially modified the terms and conditions of the employees’ employment, so the company violated labor law.
To avoid having to bargain over such changes, employers may consider seeking language in their labor agreements that vests them with discretion to modify or promulgate safety and other work place rules. To the extent an agreement contains such language, it may negate a union’s ability to contest a change as the union did in this case.
Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.