Employees Sue Unions for Privacy Violations

December 27, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - After employees at a Cintas Corp plant discovered that union organizers had obtained their home addresses from DMV records of their license plates, they filed suit against two unions for violating their privacy rights.

The Wall Street Journal notes that it’s highly unusual for workers to bring a lawsuit against a union trying to organize, and the case is threatening to cause controversy in the labor movement.

A case such as this highlights the issue of the image of unions to workers and shows how divided employees within the same company can be about joining a union. Pro-union employees at Cintas are seeing the company’s support of this lawsuit as its latest anti-union and intimidation tactic. Cintas provided the lawyers for the class-action suit.

However, the issue of the suit, according to the plaintiffs, is the violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which prohibits the disclosure and use of personal information obtained through motor vehicle records, with a limited number of exceptions, including use by courts or law-enforcement agencies, the WSJ reports.

According to legal documents in the case, union organizers admitted to gaining access to motor vehicle records from Pennsylvania and eight other states with the aid of a private investigator. John Canoni, a partner in the labor and employment practice of Nixon Peabody LLP in New York, which is not involved in the case, believes the suit has already influenced unions to stop accessing motor-vehicle information.

Traditionally, unions spread their message to workers door-to-door, but most often rely on workers to pass along home addresses of co-workers, say labor experts. A victory for the plaintiffs in this case could discourage such recruiting methods even if home addresses are obtained by other means. Many labor experts agree that the lawsuit is an example of an aggressive union organizing counter tactic that can be used by companies.