Labor unions were originally established due to the need to protect the common interest of workers. These organized labor unions worked towards better wages, more reasonable working hours, and safer working conditions for employees. They are meant to protect and benefit employees. However, this is not always the case.

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

Most 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.

What are Some Examples of Unfair Labor Union Activities?

Common examples of unfair labor union activities often include:

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

Pros and Cons of Unions

Despite some abuse and unfair activities, unions have positive aspects and play an important role in protecting workers’ rights. Some of the positives of unions are:

  • Giving workers the power to negotiate for more favorable working conditions, higher wages, and improved benefits;
  • Job protection and security due to the union, and not the employer, having the power to determine disciplinary action for unionized employees;
  • Collective bargaining, which has already been discussed; and
  • Ensuring workplace safety.

All of these positives have negative aspects to them:

  • Union negotiations can sometimes lead to wages becoming unreasonably high, resulting in the reduction of new hire employees, outsourcing of labor, and raised prices;
  • Labor union dues and fees can sometimes offset the higher, union-negotiated wages. As already discussed, this can be a discriminatory tactic to curate “desirable” union members;
  • Membership in many unions becomes less about skill and competency, and more about networking, as unions can decide whom to accept and whom to reject. This is another example of discrimination as an unfair labor union activity; and
  • Labor unions contribute to a combative relationship between employers and employees. This promotes workplace hostility instead of cooperation, and is counterproductive to the mission of unions.

How Do I Take Action to Prevent Further Unfair Treatment?

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

Should I Contact an Employment Lawyer?

Labor unions have their own attorneys. In order to avoid being manipulated by these labor union attorneys, it is in your best interest to consult your own labor lawyers. A well qualified employment lawyer can serve as your guide in negotiations, and even represent you during trial if a civil lawsuit becomes necessary.

As can be seen, navigating the federal laws that govern unions can be a difficult matter, but with the assistance of an experienced employment lawyer, achieving your goals during negotiation with the union is very much a possibility. An employment lawyer can also help you if you are an employer dealing with a union.