What is the National Labor Relations Act?

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was first enacted in 1935 to encourage unionization among workers.  The NLRA governs relationships between private sector employers and their employees when dealing with labor unions, concerted activity, as well as terms and conditions of employment. The Act applies to both union and non-union employers, although most companies without a union pay very little attention to the NLRA. The NLRA does not apply to private sector employees who work in the railroad, airline, or agricultural industries, or domestic employees, supervisors, or in some family businesses. All other employers are targets for union organizers.

Under the NLRA, employees are free to form or join a union, or refrain from forming or joining a union. The Act establishes that once a union is formed, the union and the employer must bargain collectively for wages, benefits, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employees may also strike orpicket employers, and employers can lock out employees. Employees can decertify their union when the employees desire to discuss work related issues directly with their employers and be promoted and receive raises based on merit and contribution instead of the date they were hired.

The NRLA is clear that employers cannot prevent employees from discussing unions during non-work time (on breaks) or from distributing union literature during non-work time in non-work areas, like parking lots and break rooms. I know of too many employers who implement a blanket no-solicitation / no distribution rule that violates the NLRA. Of course, the only time this rule is challenged is when a union tries to organize a group of employees, and there is hardly a defense to an incorrectly drafted and followed no-solicitation, no-distribution policy.

The NLRA also forbids employers from questioning employees about their support (or lack of support) for a union, retaliate against or reward employees for supporting (or not supporting) a union, and in some cases stop employees from wearing union hats, buttons, t-shirts, and pins in the workplace.

Unions, on the other hand, cannot threaten employees that they will lose their job or refuse to process grievances of employees who do not support the union. Importantly, unions do not enjoy any special right to appear or remain on the property of the employer or any employees. For example, union organizers and bargaining agents frequently make themselves at home in restricted work areas and parking lots after being let into those areas by union-friendly employees. Those same organizers and business agents appear at the  doorstep of employees’ homes in an effort to convince them to sign an authorization card or vote in favor of the union. In both situations, the union organizer and business agent can be asked to leave the property, and if they refuse, they could be considered trespassers and police assistance may be warranted.

There is a lot more to the National Labor Relations Act – enough to keep me busy on a full time basis. The above is a quick overview of the Act. For more, in depth reading, stay tuned for more posts. For immediate more in depth reading, go to www.nlrb.gov and poke around. You’ll be amazed at what all you will find.