A labor union is an organization, protected by law, formed to secure the interests of its members. Labor unions protect member rights in regards to matters relating to wages, hours, and working conditions. They are usually industry specific and are more commonly found in manufacturing, mining, construction, transportation, and public sector i.e. government jobs.

A labor union is often favored by employees since it can give an employee the opportunity to achieve respect and fairness at the workplace. Also, it can give the employee a stronger voice in making decisions that may impact their job.

Like a democracy, labor unions hold elections to determine officers who will make decisions and represent the members of the union. Benefits to becoming a part of a labor union are the power to negotiate with employers as an entire group as opposed to as an individual.

Labor Union Laws

In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) for the purpose of protecting “the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses, and the U.S. economy.”

Labor union laws were created to mediate the rights and duties of workers and employers.

How to Form a Labor Union

Creating a union can be boiled down to these basic steps:

  1. Knowing Your Legal Rights: Federal and State laws guarantee the right to form unions. However, it is recommended that one get in touch with a union that will help you organize.
  2. What Union Is Right for You: It is recommended research be conducted of unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the umbrella federation for U.S. unions. Comprised of over 56 unions representing 12.5 million working men and women.
  3. Build and Make Your Union Official: Make your union official through a secret ballot election held through a neutral government agency like the National Labor Relations Board. Another way to become official is if your employer voluntarily elects to recognize your union.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal act established in 1938. The FLSA “establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.” As of July 24, 2009, covered nonexempt workers are entitled to earn in their job a wage not less than $7.25 per hour. An exempt worker is an employee in a position excluded from minimum wage, overtime regulations and other protections afforded to workers protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

What Rights Do I Have If I Join a Union?

First off, you are not legally required to join a labor union, however, if you choose to join a labor union, you will be entitled to the rights and protections of the other members. As a union member, you have a right to be represented equally and fairly as compared to the other members in the same union.

As outlined by the U.S Department of Labor, union member rights can be organized in the following categories:

  • Bill of Rights: As stated above, union members have the same rights as all other members in the union.
  • Copies of Collective Bargaining Agreements: Union members have the right to receive and/or review collective bargaining agreements.
  • Reports: Unions are required by law to file an information report, constitution and by laws, and financial report with the Office of Labor Management Standards.
  • Officer Elections: Union members may hold elections for candidates for office within the union.
  • Office Removal: A union should have adequate procedure to remove elected officers.
  • Prohibition against Violence

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act

Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 was created to “provide standards for the reporting and disclosure of certain financial transactions and administrative practices of labor organizations and employers; protection of union funds and assets; the administration of trusteeships by labor organizations; and the election of officers of labor organizations.” The LMRDA also guarantees rights to union members.

Under the LMRDA, an officer of a union or employer is responsible for maintaining records and reports of the union organization. There are a variety of materials that must be filed by officers and members of labor unions in order to be found in compliance with the requirements of the LMRDA.

Wage Disputes and the Law

When unions and employers engage in wage negotiations, wage disputes may and often do occur. Unions organize boycotts and strikes when unions and employers are unable to reach an agreement. A wage dispute may occur when national and/or state wage standards are violated or where an employer has breached contractual obligations to employees.

Seeking Help from an Employment Attorney

If you are thinking of starting a union, a qualified labor lawyers can help you determine where to begin. An experienced employment attorney can also offer aid if you are a member of a union and have specific questions about disputes with your employer or disputed within your union.