Unionized Employers: Review the Wage Provisions in Your Collective Bargaining Agreements

28 May 2014 Wisconsin Appellate Law Blog

Employers face many headaches in a unionized workplace, but one supposed benefit of a union is that it streamlines procedures across large groups of employees. The employer can look to the collective bargaining agreement to know precisely how, when, and how much to pay all of the bargaining unit employees. 

In theory, anyway. In Aguilar v. Husco, Inc., No. 2013 AP 265 (Wis. Ct. App. May 20, 2014), the Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently told employers that the terms of a collective bargaining agreement may not conflict with state law, regardless of whether the employer and the union agree to the terms. Since 1983, Husco and its employees had operated under a collective bargaining agreement that provided for a 20-minute unpaid break each day. Under the Wisconsin Wage Payment and Collection Law, however, all breaks of fewer than 30 minutes are required to be paid breaks.

Twenty-five years after the provision was put into the CBA, someone finally realized that it was unlawful. Employees then filed a class-action lawsuit, and the Court of Appeals found in favor of the entire class of employees. The court found irrelevant the clear terms of the CBA, the fact that the parties agreed to these terms voluntarily, and the fact that neither party was aware of the state-law provision when the terms were agreed to. As the court put it, the state law “evidences a clear legislative intent to protect employee rights to wage payment in certain workplace conditions and at certain times,” and no agreement—voluntary or otherwise—can override state law.

The moral of the story is that unionized employers can no longer merely rely on the language of their collective bargaining agreements as a defense to employee wage claims. And because the provisions of the CBA apply to all bargaining unit employees (the supposed benefit above), a violation against one employee is likely a violation against all of them. And that triggers two of the most dangerous (i.e., expensive) words in employment litigation: class action.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Related Services

Insights

PATH Summit 2019
18-20 December 2019
Arlington, VA
MedTech Impact Expo & Conference
13-15 December 2019
Las Vegas, NV
Review of 2020 Medicare Changes for Telehealth
11 December 2019
Member Call
BRG Healthcare Leadership Conference
06 December 2019
Washington, D.C.