A non-union employee is an employee who is not a member of a labor union. Most labor laws deal with union rights and related topics. However, non-union employees make up a majority of U.S. workers and are entitled to similar workplace protection as their unionized counterparts. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) also protected employees who are not part of a union.

Employees who are in a non-union workplace have the right to come together to try to form a union and their employers cannot prevent them from doing so. If employees who are not part of a union want to form one, the also prohibits them from using threats or other coercive tactics to influence the outcome of an election.

How Can Non-union Employees Bargain with Their Employers?

Unlike unionized workers, non-union workers do not have a union as a bargaining representative. Non-union employees cannot go on strike because only unions may call strikes. Non-union workers do have similar rights to unionized workers, but they need to be addressed in a different manner. Examples include:

  • Concerted Activity: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allows non-union employees to engage in concerted activity. A concerted action occurs when employees get together to demand a benefit from the employer. As long as a demand is for the benefit of all employees, it is a concerted activity. An employer cannot fire employees for engaging in a concerted activity if the demands are reasonable.
  • Employee Committees: Employee committees are common in non-union companies and are similar to human resource departments. An employee committee usually consists of management and employee representatives that meet regularly to serve the interests of the employees.

Can Non-Union Employees Organize a Union?

Non-union employees also have the right to try to form a union and are protected to do so under the NLRA. An employer may not retaliate or discriminate against non-union employees who attempt to organize or support a workplace union.

If non-union employees are voting on whether or not to unionize, an employer may not use threats or coercive action to influence the election process. Finally, an employer is prohibited from punishing workplace discussion about forming a union.

However, the requirements for a union depend on the type of position that hopes to unionize. There should also be a minimum number of potential members, form a type of structure or order, and be prepared to choose a leader and negotiate a contract with your employer.

What Types of Demands Do Non-union Employees Typically Make?

All employees generally want the same benefits and conditions. Non-union employees are no different. Typical demands include:

Do I Have to Join a Union as a Non-Union Employee?

The answer to this question depends on where you work. If you are a government employee, public school teacher or college professor, you do not have to join a union. Due to a Supreme Court ruling in 2018, if you are a non-union employee but are member of the public sector, you do not need to pay union fees.

Many public sector unions required non-union members to pay dues, or at least some amount, due to the fact that the union often negotiates for their benefit.

If you are a private sector employee, you may have to pay union fees if you live in a “Right to Work” state. If you work for a railroad or airline, you do not have to join a union but you may have to pay union fees.

How Can I Form a Labor Union?

Employees who are not part of a union are protected to create their own union. Creating a new union is very difficult; most of the time employees unionize by holding labor union elections. Either way, a union must be certified by the NLRB (a federal agency). The process is as follows:

  • Authorization Cards: An employee must first sign an authorization card to show his willingness to form a union. A union election requires at least 30% of the employees to sign the cards. Creating a new union requires a majority of the workers to sign the cards.  Otherwise, a union cannot be formed.
  • Appropriate Bargaining Unit (ABU): If there are enough signed authorization cards, they are sent to the NLRB for approval of a union election. The NLRB will only grant a union election if the employees are an ABU. This means that the employees have similar demands, hold similar positions, are non-management employees, and work in a close geographical area.
  • Certification: The NLRB will certify and preside over a union election if the above requirements are met.

Do I Need an Employment Law Attorney for a Union Issue?

Non-union employees do not have as much bargaining power with employers as union employees. However, non-union employees do have rights. If you are a non-union employee who believes that your company is treating you unfairly, consult a local employment attorney to learn more about your rights and defenses. A lawyer can also help you if you are an employer dealing with a union.