Labor unions are associations of workers in a specific trade or company which are organized to protect and further the rights and interests of the employees. The employees in a union have similar ideas regarding how their workplace conditions should improve.

These individuals unite as a union because they believe their needs will be better met if an employer is approached as a collective voice. Workplace conditions may include issues such as:

  • A clean and safe work environment;
  • Decent wages;
  • Health and medical benefits, such as insurance;
  • Fair and equal procedures for promotions and firings; and
  • Protections against unfair discipline or termination.

Labor unions are protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA was enacted in 1935 by Congress.

The NLRA ensures that the rights of employees are represented by unions. It also prohibits an employer from interfering with the selection of unions. The NLRA was also passed to encourage collective bargaining.

In addition, an amendment to the NLRA, the Taft-Hartley Act, further regulates unions by prohibiting unions from forcing employees into joining unions or refusing to bargain in good faith with employers. The Act also prohibits using threats or violence in order to promote union agendas or charging excessive dues.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was established by the NLRA. The NLRB is an administrative agency which hears disputes between employers and unions.

In addition, the NLRB determines which union should represent a group of employees. It created regulations and procedures for the formation of unions.

The NLRB has a General Counsel which investigates union or employer claims of unfair bargaining. It also creates procedures and rules for collective bargaining.

In addition to the National Labor Relations Act, many states have laws which address the issue of unions and labor law. Some states have laws which are similar to the NLRA which apply to employers that are not covered by the federal law.

What is Collective Bargaining?

The National Labor Relations Act imposes a duty on an employer and the union to engage in good faith collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is negotiations between an employer and a union to determine the conditions of employment.

When an employer and a union finish their negotiations, a collective bargaining agreement is formed, binding the employer to certain conditions for the employment arrangement.

In order to conduct collective bargaining in good faith, an employer and a unions are required to:

  • Use their best efforts to agree to an effective bargaining process;
  • Meet, consider, and respond to proposals made by each party;
  • Respect the role of the representative of each party by not seeking to bargain directly with those for whom the representative acts; and
  • Not to perform any actions intended to undermine the bargaining process or the authority of the other party’s representative.

It is important to note that good faith collective bargaining does not require that either the employer or the union make any concessions or agree to any proposals. It only requires that the parties meet and negotiate at reasonable times with a willingness to reach an agreement regarding matters within the scope of representation.

Additionally, the NLRA regulates what activities a union is permitted to use in order to persuade an employer to provide them with certain collective employment conditions. These activities include:

  • Strikes;
  • Lock-outs; and
  • Picketing.

What is the Purpose of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act?

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) was created to develop preventative measures in order to stop improper collusion between employers and union officials. The LMRDA also serves to prevent the embezzlement of union member dues.

The LMRDA requires the disclosure of financial transactions and administrative practices of unions, employers, and labor consultants. It also provides standards for the election of union officials, trusteeships, and the fiduciary duties of union officers.

The LMRDA only applies to unions that are composed in whole or in part by private sector or United States Postal Services employees. If the union is a wholly public sector union, such as a teacher’s union, the LMRDA does not apply.

What are Some of the Basic Rights of Union Members under the LMRDA?

The LMRDA provides union members with some basic rights, giving them the power to help enforce the objectives of the LMRDA. These include:

  • A copy of any collective bargaining agreement which affects the rights of union members must be provided to them;
  • Information must be provided to union members regarding information on the financial transactions and administrative practices of their union;
  • Union members are entitled to free and democratic elections of officers as well as the removal of officers;
  • Unions may raise dues only by democratic procedures such as a vote on it by all union members; and
  • Union officials have a legally-binding fiduciary responsibility, which can be enforced by union members in a lawsuit in civil court.

What are the Fiduciary Duties of Union Officers?

The primary function of the LMRDA is to curb corruption in private sector unions. This law attempts to curb corruption by recognizing the rights of union members and by imposing fiduciary duties on union officers. Fiduciary duties include legal and ethical rules which are imposed by law to maintain a high standard of trust and confidence in certain types of relationships.

In the context of a union, the LMRDA imposes the following obligations on union officials:

  • Officials shall hold the union’s assets solely for the benefit of the organization and its members;
  • Officials shall not deal adversely with the union or deal with the union on behalf of an adverse party;
  • Officials shall refrain from any interests that would pose a conflict of interest with the union; and
  • Officials shall make an accounting to the union for any profits that the official receives in connection with any business that the official engages in on behalf of the union.

What if an Official is Misusing Union Funds?

If an individual suspects a union official is misusing union funds, they should contact an Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS). This federal agency will conduct an investigation and determine what sanctions are necessary, if any.

What Should I Do if My Union’s Officials are Violating the LMRDA?

An individual may have legal recourse if their union’s officials are violating the LMRDA. Although certain provisions of the LMRDA are enforced by the Department of Labor, many provisions are only enforceable if a union member brings a private lawsuit.

An experienced labor law attorney can help an individual understand their rights under the LMRDA and determine if the provision requires a private lawsuit to enforce. A lawyer can also help the individual file their complaint.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for My Claim?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a labor law attorney for any labor union issues you may be facing. As noted above, your attorney can advise you of your rights, assist you in filing a complaint, and file a private lawsuit, if necessary. Your lawyer will also represent you each time you are required to appear in court.

A labor law attorney can also assist in handling the day-to-day tasks of a union and appear before federal and state courts, boards, and commissions. Having an attorney involved in a union can ensure any labor law needs are properly handled.