Reference from Coast to Coast - Finding U.S. Collective Bargaining Agreements

Welcome to Reference From Coast to Coast: Sources and Strategies, a monthly column written by Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen.

Jan Bissett is a Reference Librarian in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office of Dickinson Wright PLLC. She is a past president of the Michigan Association of Law Libraries and has published articles on administrative and research related topics in the Michigan Association of Law Libraries Newsletter and Michigan Defense Quarterly. She and Margi Heinen team teach Legal Information Sources and Services for Wayne State University's Library and Information Science Program in Detroit, Michigan.   

Margi Heinen is the Librarian at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches Legal Resources at the University of Michigan's School of Information and is team teaching with her co-columnist, Jan Bissett, at Wayne State University's School of Library and Information Science. She regularly does Internet training of legal staff at her firm and recently collaborated with Kathleen Gamache on an I.P.E. presentation, Internet Stategies for the Paralegal in Michigan. She is active in the Law Librarians of Metro Detroit and is a member of the American Association of Law Libraries.

Researchers in legal settings are often required to find primary material. We usually think in terms of primary legal sources but we also search for SEC documents, financial records and other fundamental documents necessary to understand the context in which people or corporations function. One such primary document is the collective bargaining agreement or CBA. The researcher may need to find sample clauses, typical inclusions or prepare for negotiations with a particular union local or employer. We offer the following tips for finding collective bargaining agreements.

If your task is to find typical collective bargaining agreements of a specific union or local, you may need to first identify which employers are parties to these agreements. It is helpful to understand the importance of public v. private in labor issues. The public sector (those entities responsible to the public such as state universities, cities, states, counties and other governmental units) are often obligated or find it useful to make labor agreements readily available. Web access has made some of this research much easier. Private entities such as hotels, restaurants, and corporations can be more reluctant to make union contracts and employment agreements publicly available. Large private entities with considerable government regulation, such as airlines, may have to provide information to agencies, for example, the FAA, in which case, information may be available. Likewise, private companies who have won a privatization contract with a governmental unit may have to provide more information on a contract.

Your research may be limited to a geographic area, type of employer, public or private, or union. Some success may be had by finding the union’s website and examining it for clues. For instance, a recent collective bargaining agreements request concerning a hotel workers union was helped by finding a list of “approved” hotels on their website. By scanning the list for my city I found six hotels that probably had collective bargaining agreements with this union since they appeared on the approved list. You may also find news on websites regarding recent negotiations or expired contracts that will give you more detail about agreements. Finally, the website may give you some idea about the size of the union or local.

§  Union size will determine whether agreements are available from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 (29 USC 181) requires the Bureau to maintain a file of collective bargaining agreements but the collection is limited to recent contracts that cover 1,000 or more workers. Check the online index to see which agreements are available in this collection.

§  The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA-PLUS) maintains a file of approximately 5,000 collective bargaining agreements including both small and large entities. A call to 1-800-452-7773 can determine if they have the agreement you want and in many instances you can put a rush on delivery if your need is urgent.

§  The Kheel Center for Labor Management Documentation & Archives at Cornell, maintains a collection of over 40,000 collective bargaining agreements as well as a collection of New York State public employee agreements. Cornell’s fee-based access service has provisions for rush requests and can provide names of contract researchers if your research requires extensive on-site work.

§  The Labor and Industrial Relations Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has a collection of several thousand collective bargaining agreements. However, like other collections, they receive these agreements as donations, not as part of a collection development policy, so they may have the agreement you are seeking but if so, it will be by chance, not design. The staff, however, are very helpful and will check their files if you have the union name on the agreement.

§   FreeErisa provides a list of collective bargaining agreements on file with the Federal government in the "Labor Library". You need to “register” at the site, but registration is free. Their order phone number is (202-728-0840).

§   Public employers, such as universities and state governments, often provide links to their collective bargaining agreements at their websites. For instance, Wisconsin, has links to several units' collective bargaining agreements and New York State maintains an impressive website devoted to collective bargaining agreements and information. A Google, search for a state name or public university and “collective bargaining agreement” will likely find an appropriate site. If you're looking for education related material, don't forget to check ERIC (Education Resources Information Center).  Information from the National Education Association as well as the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions and AAUP is available. The Critical Issue Bibliography (CRIB) Sheet on Collective Bargaining in Higher Education, while dated, provides citations to documents covering legal and human resources issues and contract trends. Another public employer, The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), provides access to its collection of agreements via the Labor Agreement Information Retrieval System (LAIRS). A user name and password is needed although a guest log-in is provided.

§   Labor Archives, such as the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs,at Wayne State University in Detroit may seem like logical choices for collective bargaining agreements but often preserve labor individuals' and organizations' papers and records and do not focus on agreements per se. They may have an agreement, especially an older one, if it was received as part of donated papers.If you are desperate you may get lucky with a call to a labor archive collection.The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut's Sources for Labor History Research in the United States supplies a listing of labor archives and brief descriptions of their collections as well as links to websites.

§  Labor Unions often maintain websites that may assist you. If Google or another search engine cannot help you locate a union website you might try the extensive list of links from New York University’s Bobst Library providing information on U.S. Women & Labor as well as numerous union and government links.

§   Print sources are not helpful for full-text collective bargaining agreements, but may contain sample clauses, wage information, negotiation status, etc. BNA’s Collective Bargaining: Negotiations and Contracts is a two volume set which provides all of the above. The sample clauses are arranged by subject, so you can quickly zero in on the clause you want. This set is also a quick source for cost-of-living and consumer price information so critical to many employment agreements.

§  Pathfinders:  There are some excellent guides or pathfinders for researching collective bargaining agreements and other labor-management topics on the Web. Collective Bargaining Websites, a guide developed by Mike Lavin and Leslie Carr at the University of Buffalo's Lockwood Library provides links to sample collective bargaining agreements sites as well as links to union sites and general information. Collective Bargaining Agreements from Cornell’s Catherwood Library is very clear and helpful. Zimmerman’s Research Guide "Collective Bargaining" includes a helpful section on locating collective bargaining agreements.