A labor union is an association of workers in a specific trade or company, organized to protect and further the rights and interests of the employees. These employees have similar ideas as to how their workplace conditions should improve, and they unite as a union because they believe these needs will be better met if the employer is approached as a collective voice. Some of these conditions include:
- A clean and safe work environment;
- Decent wages;
- Health and medical benefits such as insurance;
- Fair and equal procedures for promotions and firings; or
- Protections against unfair discipline or termination.
Labor unions are protected by 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, as well as prohibits employers from interfering with the selection of unions. It was also passed to encourage collective bargaining.
Additionally, an amendment to the NLRA, the Taft-Hartley Act, further regulates unions themselves by disallowing unions to coerce employees into joining a union or refuse to bargain in good faith with employers. Further the act disallows threats or violence to promote union agendas or charging excessive dues.
The NLRA established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an administrative agency that hears disputes between employers and unions. The NLRB also determines which union should represent a group of employees; they have created regulations and procedures for the formation of unions. The NLRB also has a General Counsel that investigates union or employer claims of unfair bargaining and creates procedures and rules for collective bargaining.
In addition to the National Labor Relations Act, many states have laws that address the issue of unions and labor law. Some of these states have laws that are similar to the NLRA that apply to employers not covered by the federal law.
As noted above labor union laws were created to mediate the rights the rights, as well as the duties, of both employers and employees. Further, in addition to federal law, many states have laws addressing unions and labor law. Thus, both public and private sector labor union members and unions themselves seek out advice and counsel from experienced labor law attorneys relating to the union operations. In representing unions and their members, labor law attorneys appear before both state and federal courts, administrative agencies, the National Labor Relations Board, and commissions.
Some of the various tasks that labor law attorneys handle include:
- Organizing union campaigns;
- Handling labor union negotiations;
- Representing employee(s) in benefits law disputes;
- Handling discrimination and sexual harassment claims involving unions;
- Handling arbitration of various employee grievances. Certain employees such as police officers and firefighters are prohibited from striking, and, thus, undergo grievance and interest arbitration;
- Representing employees or unions in front of the National Labor Relations Board;
- Representing unions in Department of Labor Investigations; or
- Representing unions or employees in collective bargaining negotiations.
Union Labor Law attorneys also handle additional issues such as day-to-day union operations, union elections, union record keeping, and other various human resources concerns. Unions also typically seek out union labor law attorneys when facing employer downsizing, employer relocations or closings, and bankruptcies.
As mentioned above, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) imposes a duty that the employer and union engage in “good faith” collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is defined as the negotiations between employers and unions to determine the conditions of employment. When the employer and union finish negotiations, a “collective bargaining agreement” results, binding the employer to certain conditions for the employment arrangement.
In order to conduct collective bargaining in “good faith,” employers and unions are required to:
- Use their best endeavours to agree to an effective bargaining process;
- Meet, consider, and respond to proposals made by each party;
- Respect the role of each party’s representative by not seeking to bargain directly with those for whom the representative acts; and
- Not perform any actions to undermine the bargaining process or authority of the other party’s representative.
It is important to note that good-faith collective bargaining does not require that either party make a concession or agree to any proposal, only that the parties meet and negotiate at reasonable times with a willingness to reach agreement on matters within the scope of representation.
Further, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) also regulates what activities a union can use to persuade the employer to give them certain collective employment conditions. These activities include strikes, lock-outs, and picketing.
As can be seen, there are various different issues that a union labor law attorney may handle including handling the day-to-day tasks of a union, as well as appearing before federal and state courts, boards, and commissions. Thus, consulting with a knowledgeable and experienced labor lawyer is crucial to making sure your labor law needs are properly handled.