Union Unlawfully Denied Access to Manufacturing Facility for Independent Investigation Because Company Permitted Others to Tour Facility

In September 2011, an employee of Caterpillar, Inc., who was a member of the United Steelworkers union (USW), died after being crushed by a heavy piece of equipment. The accident was properly reported to the police and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The president of the Local Union notified the USW Emergency Response Team (ERT). The ERT dispatched a representative to the facility, but she was denied entrance by company officials. Caterpillar assured the ERT that it was cooperating with the local police’s and OSHA’s investigations and additional investigation by the union was not required by the collective bargaining agreement and would not be productive. The Company also cited its need for protection of confidential information about plant processes as reasons to prohibit the union access to investigate the death.

The National Labor Relations Board found that Caterpillar allowed customers, dealers, technical groups, and students to tour the plant during working hours. Specifically, plant tours could pass the area where the accident occurred, and there was no evidence the company required participants to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of visiting the plant, nor were products or processes concealed during the tours.

Caterpillar, Inc. violated its duty to bargain with the United Steelworkers Union when it denied the union’s request to send an accident investigator into a Wisconsin manufacturing plant after a workplace fatality.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.