In Spite Of Contract Clause, Sheriff’s Union Entitled to See Other Deputies’ Disciplinary Files

Corrections officers working for Milwaukee County, Wisconsin are represented by Local 567 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. A clause in the collective bargaining agreement requires a written authorization from employees before release of personnel records.

When a corrections officer received a ten-day suspension after an inmate he was guarding escaped from a medical clinic, Local 567 filed a grievance challenging the disciplinary decision. Local 567 sent a written request to the County seeking records regarding the disciplinary histories of the deputy who had been disciplined and those of another deputy who had been involved in an escape incident very similar to the one that produced a ten-day suspension. When the second deputy would not submit a written authorization for the release of his disciplinary records, the County refused to comply with Local 567's request.

Local 567 filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the County, alleging that the failure to provide the disciplinary information was a breach of the obligation to bargain in good faith. Wisconsin's Employment Relations Commission agreed with Local 567 and ordered the County to disclose the information. The Commission reasoned that “in order to facilitate a union's ability to represent its bargaining unit members in administering the contract, an employer must provide information upon a union request that is relevant and reasonably necessary to the union's carrying out its duties. The relevance and necessity of the information requested is well within established and commonplace understandings of the Union's role in representing disciplined employees. The Union wants to explore the possibility of a disparate treatment argument on behalf of the disciplined employee, a standard line of argument for an employee challenging discipline.”

The County argued that it was merely complying with the privacy clause in the contract by honoring the wishes of the other employee that materials in his file not be disclosed. The Commission was not convinced, finding that “the Union has an interest and a corresponding right to information that is not merely derivative of whatever right employees may have to information, but transcends that interest. Consonant with its legal duty to represent the interests of the entire bargaining unit, the Union has an interest in the overall fairness and equity of the County's investigatory and disciplinary procedures. This Commission has long refused to construe contract language as a waiver of important statutory duties without clear and unmistakable evidence compelling that construction. By that standard, the record falls far short of establishing that the contract is limited to union statutory right to information about employee disciplinary records.”

Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, #32728-B (Wis. ERC 2010).

This article appears in the March 2010 issue