Unfair Labor Union Activities

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 What Is A Labor Union?

A labor union is a group of workers in a specific trade or industry, who organize in order to protect and further their rights and interests in the workplace. These employees share thoughts and ideas regarding how their working conditions could improve, and they unite as a union because they believe that these needs will be better met if they approach their employer with a unified, collective voice.

Some examples of the common working conditions that they seek include:

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

Labor unions are protected by labor union law, more specifically the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), which was enacted by Congress in 1935. The NLRA ensures the rights of employees to be represented by unions, and also prohibits employers from interfering with their workers’ selection of unions. Additionally, its provisions promote the collective bargaining process.

The Taft-Hartley Act further regulates unions themselves by forbidding unions from coercing employees into joining a union, or refusing to bargain in good faith with employers. Additionally, the act disallows threats or violence in order to promote union agendas, and it forbids unions from charging excessive dues.

The NLRA also established the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), which is an administrative agency that hears disputes between employers and unions. The NLRB also determines which union should represent a group of employees. The Board has created regulations and procedures for the formation of unions, and has a General Counsel who investigates union or employer claims of unfair bargaining. The Counsel also creates procedures and rules for collective bargaining.

In addition to the federal NLRA, many states have laws addressing the issue of unions as well as state labor union rules and regulations. Some of these states have laws that are similar to the NLRA, which may apply to employers who are not covered by the federal law.

Some union activities that are prohibited by the NLRA include:

  • Threatening employees with the loss of their jobs if they do not support the union;
  • Seeking punishment of an employee for not being a union member, even if the employee has paid or offered to pay the required fees;
  • Refusing to handle an employee’s grievance because the employee has criticized the union, or because an employee is not a member of the union in states in which union security clauses are not allowed;
  • Attempting to fine employees who have validly resigned from the union, or who cross an unlawful picket line;
  • Engaging in misconduct on picket lines, such as threatening, assaulting, and/or barring non-strikers from the employer’s premises; and
  • Striking about issues that are not related to the terms and conditions of employment.

What Are Some Of The Most Common Examples Of Unfair Labor Union Activities?

Labor unions were originally established to protect the common interest of workers, who worked towards better wages, more reasonable working hours, and safer working conditions for employees. They are generally intended to protect and benefit employees.

An Unfair Labor Practice (“ULP”) occurs when Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act is violated, either by a union or employer. Because of this, the National Labor Relations Act and other labor laws function in order to keep labor unions in check. They also assist with common disputes such as wrongful termination, discrimination and harassment, and worker’s compensation.

More commonly, ULPs are filed against union leaders for intimidation, coercion, and violence. In 2010, it was reported that union officials faced a disproportionately high number of allegations when compared to employers.

Common examples of unfair labor union activities include:

  1. Forcing employees to partake in strikes and illegal picket lines. Illegal employee strikes include violence; sit down striking by staying in the workplace and not working; and denying entrance to replacement workers or management;
  2. Charging excessive or discriminatory membership fees, which would be done in an effort to prohibit “undesirable” employees from participating in union activities. This would be based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.;
  3. Engaging in strikes and boycotts with illegal purposes;
  4. Not engaging in good-faith collective bargaining, a negotiations process between employers and a group of employees intended to reach an agreement on salaries, working conditions, benefits, and other aspects of worker’s compensation and rights;
  5. Not letting employers freely choose their own collective bargaining representatives, as it is imperative to the fairness of the argument that each side be allowed to choose someone that they feel best represents them;
  6. Forcing or attempting to force employers to pay for work that was never performed;
  7. Forcing employers to discriminate against employees based on their participation in their union;
  8. Striking or picketing at a healthcare institution without giving notice to both the institution and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service;
  9. Fining employees for crossing a picket line after they have resigned from a union;
  10. Threats to do bodily harm to non-striking employees;
  11. Threatening employees with job loss unless they support the union’s activities; and
  12. Fining or expelling members for filing an ULP with the Board, or for participating in an investigation conducted by the Board.

How Do I Prevent Further Unfair Treatment?

Unions largely have positive aspects and play an important role in protecting workers’ rights. Some of these examples of positives include:

  • Giving workers the power to negotiate for more favorable working conditions, higher wages, and improved benefits;
  • Job protection and security due to the fact that the union, and not the employer, have the power to determine disciplinary action for unionized employees;
  • Collective bargaining, as was previously discussed; and
  • Ensuring workplace safety.

A complaint must be filed by a union member, through the National Labor Relations Bureau, by filling out their NLRB Form 508. The complaint must be filed within six months of the misconduct; if the six months have passed, you can file a civil suit in order to take advantage of the other labor laws. The NLRB will conduct an investigation into the allegations and move forward. Additionally, union members are allowed to withdraw the complaint if they wish.

Generally speaking, the NLRA forbids businesses from retaliating against employees for engaging in protected union activities. An example of this would be voting to join a union. Additionally, an employer is required to bargain in good faith with a union over the terms and conditions of employment in the business.

Only the employees themselves are legally allowed to decertify a union that they previously voted to join, by using the process of decertification if they so choose. Under the NLRA, if 30% or more of the workers in a union bargaining unit sign a Decertification Petition, the NLRB conducts a secret ballot election. This election determines whether a majority of the employees want to decertify the union, and end its exclusive representation.

In response, a business can close down entirely; this is allowed even if the closure happens only in response to the certification of a union, and for no other reason. There are exceptions to this rule. An example of this would be how an employer cannot close just one facility of several, because of union activity, solely for the purpose of defeating unionization at other facilities or locations. As such, the closing of a business will be viewed as unlawful if the decision to close is based on anti-union motivation, and is directed at employees at other locations.

Another solution pursued by the business community would be right-to-work laws. These laws vary in their exact provisions and effect from state to state; generally, in right-to-work states, employees who are hired by a union shop choose whether to join the union and pay union dues.

Employees who decline to join the union are not obligated to pay union dues, although they are permitted to enjoy the benefits that are obtained by the union through the collective bargaining process. Additionally, the union is not allowed to expel the non-dues paying workers from the collective bargaining agreement, and let them negotiate their:

  • Salary;
  • Benefits; and
  • Due process rights on their own.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Unfair Labor Union Activities?

Labor unions have their own attorneys. However, you could consult with your own labor lawyers, as they can represent you during trial if a civil lawsuit becomes necessary. An employment lawyer can also help if you are an employer experiencing issues with a union.

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