Friday, July 27, 2012

Alaska Supreme Court recognizes a union-relations privilege in confidential union-related communications and statutory protection against unfair labor practices


Alaska Supreme Court recognizes a union-relations privilege in confidential union-related communications and statutory protection against unfair labor practices
Source: Adjunct Law Prof Blog; http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/
Reproduced with permission. Copyright © 2012, Mitchell H. Rubinstein, Esq., Adjunct Professor of Law, St. Johns Law School and New York Law School, All rights reserved.

The Alaska Supreme Court recognized a union-relations privilege in Peterson v. State of Alaska, No. S-14233, ___P.3d___, 2012 WL 2947636  (Alaska, July 20, 2012) [A copy of the decision may be downloaded [Download Peterson ]

The Court held that "[b]ased on the strong interest in confidential union-related communications and statutory protection against unfair labor practices, we hold [the state labor relations act] impliedly provides the State's union employees a union-relations privilege."  The reasoning employed by the Court - that "the proper functioning of [a] mandatory grievance and arbitration system . . . requires some protection for confidential communications made for the purpose of facilitating the rendition of grievance-related representative services to the employee" and that recognizing a privilege "harmonizes [the state labor relations act]'s strong public policy in favor of contractual resolution of labor disputes with the civil discovery rules" - should be useful in other states and in other settings where this issue frequently arises.

This is a major decision. It is my hope that other states will follow suit. I wrote a law review article on this topic a few years ago, Is a Full Labor Relations Evidentiary Privilege Developing? 29 Berkeley Journal of Labor and Employment Law 221 (2008), available here

Though this decision arose in the public sector, there is no reason why this decision would not be applicable to private employers. The policies behind the Alaska statute and the NLRA are virtually identical and the policies and need for the recognition of this privilege are certainly identical. 

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

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