Employer Cannot Install GPS on Vehicles Without First Bargaining with the Union
On June 30, 2015, public sector workers across Massachusetts won an important victory at the Department of Labor (‘DLR’). In the case of City of Springfield and AFSCME, MUP-12-2466, the DLR held that the city of Springfield could not install GPS tracking devices on employee vehicles without first bargaining with the employees’ union—the AFSCME, Council 93. You can read the full decision here: http://www.mass.gov/lwd/labor-relations/recent-decisions/2015-decisions/june-2015/mup-12-2466-cerb-decision.pdf. Moving forward, this decision will help unions to better protect employees on how GPS information is used and what circumstances GPS information will be accessed.
This dispute began in 2012, when the city of Springfield began secretly installing GPS tracking devices on public utility vehicles. These devices allowed the city to determine employees’ work locations, idle time, speed, distances driven, and number of stops—all in real time. Before these devices were installed, the city had no way of gathering this information and did not require employees to report it.
The DLR held that these devices were illegal because they altered an existing condition of employment without first bargaining with the employees’ union. These devices altered an existing condition of employment because they “plainly changed the type and amount of information” available to the city. On these grounds, the DLR distinguished this case from two previous cases: City of Worcester, MUP-05-4409 (2007) and Duxbury School Committee, 25 MLC 22 (1998).
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly interviewed Jennifer Rubin, a partner at Sandulli Grace, about the case. She explained that this decision is a “big deal”. It is the first time that a case in Massachusetts has held that the decision to implement GPS devices, and the impacts of that decision is something that unions must be given the opportunity to bargain. Attorney Rubin also added even if a public employer had previously monitored employees in some manner, unions should still demand to bargain if the employer considers installing GPS devices “because the decision says if the type or amount of information tracked by the GPS is different from before, that could form the basis for a bargaining obligation.”
This case represents an important victory about the employer’s bargaining obligations. As new technology continues to alter the employer-employee relationship, we should always remember the importance of protecting the employee’s privacy and how that information that is produced by that new technology is used.