A labor union is a formal group created by workers under the same employer, who hold similar ideas regarding the standards for their work (such as wages, salaries, working conditions, benefits, etc.). Their purpose is to “level the field” for negotiations between workers and the employer, since the employer is often in a position to exercise greater bargaining power than the workers. 

Negotiations between the union and the employer(s) usually results in an agreement spelling out the new conditions for employment, as well as the rights and duties of employers and workers.

Labor unions are becoming increasingly more common in small business settings, not just larger employment operations. Thus, small business owners need to have an understanding of what they can and can’t do if a labor union is being organized in their business.

Are Small Business Owners Allowed to Prohibit Labor Unions?

By nature, labor unions often pit the interests of the workers against those of the employer. However, these differences don’t necessarily need to result in a small business labor union conflict- they should be addressed according to the requirements of law. 

The rights and duties of a small business owner will largely depend on the timeline of the union’s formation. For example, the small business owner’s rights are very different before a union is formed compared to the period after they are formed. Before a union is formed, laws usually allow a small business owner to:

  • Prohibit the distribution of union literature in the workplace;
  • Restrict employee efforts to sign union cards or petitions
  • Forbid outside non-employee organizers from conducting activities on company property

Note that these rules and prohibitions must already be in place before union organizing activities are launched. If the prohibitions mentioned above are instituted after organizing has already begun, the small business owner risks facing charges for unlawful employment retaliation. 

What If the Labor Organization Efforts Have Already Started?

Any labor union organization effort needs to follow the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA is the main federal union labor law. It defines what both employers and employees can and can’t do during union formation and bargaining efforts. There are also state and local laws governing unions.

Small business owners need to safeguard themselves by knowing what they can and can’t do if a union labor organization campaign is underway. For example, they can’t engage in “unfair practices” against the employees, such as:

  • Discriminating against pro-union employees
  • Showing favoritism towards anti-union employees
  • Visiting employee’s homes in attempts to lobby against the union
  • Implying that a union victory would mean termination or loss of benefits
  • Withholding employee names and information from organizers (once an election agreement has been reached)
  • Conducting employee polls about their views on the proposed union agreements
  • Refusing to conduct good-faith negotiations with a legitimate union
  • Coercing, restraining, or otherwise interfering with employees

What If a Small Business Owner Is Not Satisfied with the Results of the Union Agreement?

After the union negotiates with the small business owner(s), the two parties will usually reach a contractual agreement known as a “collective bargaining agreement.” The agreement spells out the new terms and changes that both parties agree to.

If the small business owner is unsatisfied with the outcome, they may be able to file a lawsuit addressing the bargaining agreement (especially if there is evidence that the union has engaged in unfair practices). Alternatively, the can seek the assistance of third party government agency and have the case investigated

Such actions may require the assistance of an attorney, since lawsuits involving labor issues can affect a large number of persons. 

Do I Need an Employment Lawyer?

Small business labor union conflicts can create a drain on both time and resources. If you need help with a small business labor union conflict, you may wish to enlist the services of an employment lawyer in your area. Your attorney can assist you as soon as you learn of any disputes or issues with employees, and can represent you during trial if a lawsuit is necessary.