Boycott Laws

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 Are Boycotts Legal?

Boycotts are agreements between two or more individuals who refuse to conduct business with an individual or a company. In the United States, the courts have recognized boycotts as having First Amendment protections under limited circumstances.

How Does the Sherman Anti-Trust Act Relate to Boycott Laws?

Under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, it is illegal to boycott if the boycott is engaged to intimate, coerce, or threaten an employee or to stop a company from conducting business. One example of an illegal boycott occurs when two or more companies agree not to engage in business with another individual or company.

Another example of an illegal boycott would be when a boycott is used to make a market more competitive or to force a competitor to agree to certain terms.

Is an Employee Strike the Same as a Boycott?

Employee strikes are a type of boycott. They usually occur when an employer is unable to reach an agreement with a labor union.

A labor union has the option to tell its union members to strike. If the workers in the union agree to do so, they temporarily stop doing their jobs.

Some or all of the workers may picket outside their place of employment to show the perceived unfairness.

What Are My Rights as a Striker?

The right to strike is provided under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Freedom of speech provides striking workers with the right to picket and conduct other strike-related activities.

Can an Employee Strike Ever Be Illegal?

Although union employees have the right to strike, not all strikes are legal. Examples of illegal strikes include:

  • Violent strikes: No violence is allowed in any type of strike;
  • “Sit down” strikes: A sit-down strike is when employees strike by staying in the plant and not working;
  • Wildcat strikes: This occurs when a minority of workers call their own strike. This kind of strike is illegal because only a union may call a strike;
  • Picketing: Employees can picket outside a company or plant. However, they cannot deny entrance to replacement workers or management; and
  • Secondary boycotts: These are strikes that are directed at someone other than the strikers’ employer.

Can I Strike if I Am a Non-Union Employee?

No, as noted above, only union employees can strike. Non-union employees are not legally permitted to strike or to join an existing strike.

What Is a Labor Union?

A labor union is an organized group of workers who form to negotiate on an equal basis with their management. An employer may be more inclined to hear the issues of employees who are members of labor organizations because they have a collective voice.

The federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is the union labor law that provides protections for labor unions. This law protects the rights of workers to union representation.

It also prohibits employers from interfering with their employees’ decisions to join a union. It also supports collective bargaining under its provisions.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the administrative body that adjudicates conflicts between employers and unions. It also chooses which union will represent a particular group of workers.

There are also many states that have laws that address the issue of unions. A number of these states also have legislation similar to the NLRA. Employers that are not subject to federal laws may be subject to the state laws.

What Kinds of Industries Use Unions?

Unions are used in many industries, including:

  • Manufacturing;
  • Construction;
  • Transportation;
  • The public sector; and
  • Service industries.

Common examples of industries in which unions are commonly found include:

  • Automotive manufacturing;
  • Steel and metal manufacturing;
  • Construction;
  • Trucking and transportation;
  • Telecommunications;
  • Public sector, for example, teachers, police, and firefighters;
  • Health care;
  • Hospitality, for example, hotels and restaurants.

Can Non-Union Employees Organize a Union?

Yes, non-union workers are permitted to form unions. Unions are formed when a group of workers come together and create a union and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with their employer.

The contract that is formed specifies the terms and conditions of employment, including:

  • Salaries;
  • Working hours;
  • Benefits; and
  • Working conditions.

Organizing a union can be a time-consuming and difficult process. It can be important, though, for offering non-union workers a collective voice and the power to bargain for improved working conditions and salaries.

If an individual wants to organize a union, they should educate themselves on the required procedures as well as their legal rights. They should also seek assistance and advice from experienced legal specialists and labor groups.

How Can Non-union Employees Bargain With Their Employers?

Workers who are not members of unions, or unionized, are typically referred to as at-will employees. They do not have the same labor rights, and negotiating powers are unionized employees.

At-will employees, however, do have certain non-union employee rights. There are also many different ways they may be able to negotiate with their employers, including:

  • Understanding their rights: First and foremost, an individual must understand their rights as a non-union employee, including the right to be free from discrimination and harassment based on race, gender, religion, and other protected characteristics;
    • Individuals also have the right to a safe and healthy workplace and fair compensation and benefits;
  • Talk to the employer: Direct and open contact with an employer is necessary when negotiating for improved working circumstances. If an individual has any problems or complaints, they should discuss them with their manager or an HR representative professionally and politely;
  • Everything should be documented: Keeping a record of any incidents or discussions will aid in developing an individual’s case if they need to take further action;
  • Creating a workplace advocacy organization: Employees who are not unionized may lobby for their rights and better working conditions;
    • This may enhance their collective negotiating power and create a support structure for those who may be scared to speak out on their own; and
  • See a lawyer: If an individual believes their rights have been infringed or if they have a disagreement with their employer that cannot be addressed via conversation, they should consult a lawyer.

At-will employees also have the right to seek better working conditions, although those options are limited without the backing and protections of a union. Individuals can still improve their working situation by advocating for themselves and working within the law.

Is a Lockout Different From a Boycott?

No, a lockout is not different from a boycott. It is actually a type of boycott.

In a lockout, instead of the employees walking off their job, the employer prohibits the employees from working. Lockouts may occur when the negotiations end between employers and labor unions.

Lockouts are legal only when there is an economic justification for the employer to engage in them.

Should I Contact an Attorney About Boycott Laws?

The laws governing boycotts may be complex as the issue may be governed by both state and federal laws. You may end up engaging in an illegal boycott without realizing it.

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to boycott laws, it is important to consult with a labor lawyer for guidance. Your lawyer can advise you of the applicable union labor laws in your state as well as federal laws.

If you are interested in forming a union, your lawyer can assist you with the process and represent you in court if any disputes arise with your employer.

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