Labor laws refer to a broad set of laws, rules and regulations that apply in the employment setting. The main goal of this area of law is to protect the rights of employees. Some common labor disputes include the following:
- Collective bargaining negotiation with union employees;
- Discrimination and harassment;
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave;
- Wrongful termination; and
- Worker’s compensation.
Labor law can almost be interchangeable with “employment law” as it covers the same topics and concerns. A labor lawyer and an employment lawyer can be used to refer to the same thing, even though labor lawyers may seem to be used in cases regarding union disputes.
How are Labor Laws Regulated in Unions?
A labor union is a class of workers with extra protection who enter into collective bargaining agreements with employers and have the authority to negotiate labor contracts. Union employees generally negotiate their pay, benefits, labor conditions, termination guidelines and procedures for dealing with labor complaints.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that generally applies to union represented employees in the private sector. The goal of this law is to ensure that the employees’ rights were not violated. For example, the NLRA grants employees the following rights:
- To form a union if one does not exist;
- To join a union;
- To decline to take part in union activities;
- To get rid of a union, if certain conditions are met; and
- To be fairly represented by a union.
The NLRA prohibits retaliation against employees who try to organize a union or bargain collectively with employers. Discriminating against employees based on their union membership is prohibited, either for being members or non-members of the union.
The NLRA also grants non-union employees to right to participate in “concerted activities” that address issues in the workplace. For example, if two employees not represented by a union approach their employer about unfair pay practices, they will be protected by the NLRA. However, in direct relation to this, a recent case may have changed the landscape of unions for non-union employees.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States made an important ruling regarding the future of unions. In the case of Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court decided that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions. These nonunion workers were forced to pay fees as at least some of the negotiations the unions do will benefit or impact them directly.
So what does this mean for unions? This means unions for employees like postal workers, police officers, and teachers may be at risk as they can no longer force employees to pay union dues/fees. While the law on recently changed, the effects are not fully known. In time, it will be clear as to what this ruling will mean for unions.
How are Labor Laws Enforced in Unions?
U.S. labor laws are very unique, and while they do vary from state to state, there are also overarching federal laws that can override state laws.
Filing Union Labor Complaints
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the agency that enforces the NLRA, regulates labor issues and policies against unfair labor practices. Employees have the right to take action against both employers and unions engaged in unfair labor practices.
To report an unfair labor practice, an employee must file a complaint with the nearest NLRB regional office. The agency will then investigate the complaint and attempt a settlement. You may also “e-file” your complaint online, but keep in mind that doing it online means you must follow their list of requirements without the help of an NLRB official.
If you fail to complete the paperwork correctly or do not follow their detailed process, then you run the risk of your claim being rejected and further delayed.
Collective Bargaining Agreements
If there is an issue with a collective bargaining agreement, both employees and employers will have a variety of alternative dispute resolution methods (such as mediation) available to them to enforce collective bargaining agreements and resolve any issues.
Starting or Ending a Union
If employees wish to start a union or end representation in a current union, a petition will need to be filed with the NLRB. The petition requires 30% or more support of all employees that would qualify for the union.
Other Employment Issues
All other employment issues, including discrimination, harassment, FMLA, wage and pay and worker’s compensation are not handled by the NLRB. Other labor laws apply to these issues, and in certain cases you may have grounds to file a civil complaint.
When Should I Contact a Labor Lawyer?
Labor lawyers can be beneficial to employees. If you have issues in the employment setting and are facing serious repercussions from your union or your employer due to union activities, you should consider consulting with a local labor and employment lawyer.