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Monday, July 11, 2022

PAC Issues Binding Opinion on FOIA Denial of Request for Union-Related Records

In January 2022, an individual submitted a FOIA request to a municipality asking for the names, work addresses, work e-mail addresses, job titles, hire dates, department names and union membership information for each City employee covered by the collective bargaining agreement with SEIU Local 73. The City denied the request pursuant to FOIA exemption 7.5(zz), which exempts from disclosure information prohibited from being disclosed by the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (IPLRA). Specifically, the City asserted that sections 6(c-5), 10(a)(8), and 10(a)(9) of the IPLRA prohibited disclosing information responsive to the FOIA request.

After the requestor appealed the denial, the PAC issued PAC Op. 22-009, which concluded that the City properly denied the FOIA request pursuant to FOIA exemption 7.5(zz).

The PAC noted that Section 6(c-5) of the IPLRA expressly prohibits disclosing any information personally identifying employee membership or membership status in a labor organization or other voluntary association affiliated with a labor organization or a labor federation, including whether employees are members of such organization or the identity of the organization.

While a public body's staff roster, employee business addresses, and public body-issued e-mail accounts are not generally exempt under FOIA, in this case, the PAC noted that the FOIA request to the City only requested information about employees covered by the City's collective bargaining agreement with SEIU Local 73. The PAC determined that providing responsive records that confirmed whether specific City employees are within a bargaining unit represented by SEIU Local 73 would necessarily reveal the identity of the organization and information concerning employee membership or membership status, in direct contravention of the IPLRA.

Although the requestor argued that identifying which employees are in a particular bargaining unit does not indicate whether they are union members, the PAC rejected this argument, noting that the FOIA request specifically sought each employee’s union.

The PAC also noted that an employee's ability to bring an unfair labor practice charge before the Illinois Labor Relations Board or file suit in circuit court against an employer for disclosing employee information in violation of section 6(c-5) underscores the mandatory nature of the provision, which was intended to insulate employees from third party communications concerning their union membership status.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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