Unsigned Collective Bargaining Agreements: As Enforceable As Signed Ones

I have had several clients over the past year assume that since they did not sign previous iterations of their collective bargaining agreements that they were not bound to those agreements. If only it was that simple. While I’ve been telling those companies that they must still comply with the contracts, I now have some muscle to back up my advice. According to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, an employer is bound by a collective bargaining agreement even if the employer did not sign the agreement or expressly authorized someone else to sign the agreement on its behalf. While the Sixth Circuit case specifically dealt with the obligation to pay unpaid pension contributions, and pension contributions are generally governed by an agreement between the employer and the pension fund (not the union), it is equally applicable to employers required to follow other clauses of a collective bargaining agreement.

On an aside, I give credit to the company and its legal counsel for getting the lower court to accept the theory that since the collective bargaining agreement was not signed that the previous pension contributions were purely voluntary.

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.