There are lots of reasons why employees would want to organize and improve working conditions. But collectively organizing together is easier said than done and requires an understanding of which rights are legally preserved by federal law and how those rights are protected.
Below we will tell you about what is perhaps the most important piece of federal legislation protecting your labor rights and the importance of understanding how you are guarded against an employer interfering with those rights.
What is the National Labor Relations Act?
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935 and it would become one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in protecting the labor rights of private-sector employees. A long history of court decisions has strengthened this law that ensures workers' rights are preserved across industries.
The NLRA dictates the labor interactions between employers, employees, and unions. Importantly, it safeguards employees from undue influence or treatment from their employers. Retaliation based on the exercise of your exercise of workplace rights is illegal, so it is vital that you are familiar with the rights described in Section 7 of the NLRA and able to recognize violations.
Which rights are protected under Section 7?
For employees, the fundamental section of the NLRA is Section 7, which details their specific right to access power int eh workplace:
"Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities"
The ability to engage or not engage in these actions is protected in the NLRA and enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). From the concerted activity that comes when starting a union to the collective bargaining that improves workers' conditions, the NLRA spells out these rights.
The right to unionize is also protected by the U.S. Constitution
Essential Details of Section 7
Concerted activity is a legally protected class of actions when two or more workers act together to better their pay or working conditions. For example, if a group of employees discusses unsafe working conditions or low pay, this is a protected concerted activity. Under the NLRA, an employer is not permitted to fire, threaten, or take disciplinary action against you for concerted activity.
The right to form a union is the core right of Section 7. If a majority of employees desire to join a union and express their desire through supporting signatures, the NLRB will conduct an election of all employees. If the workers vote in favor of the union, the NLRB will certify the union as the representative of the workers. This step is essential for the conduct of collective bargaining to improve workplace conditions.
Collective bargaining is the negotiation between a union representative and an employer regarding working conditions. These negotiations aim to reach a contract that changes terms like pay, benefits, and safety conditions in the workplace. The NLRA ensures these negotiations are held in good faith and make the contract binding.
Recognizing these actions in the workplace requires an understanding of how they appear from company to company, better described in Section 8 of the NLRA.
How Do I Find More Examples of my Section 7 Rights?
The rights mentioned in Section 7 of the NLRA are further detailed in Section 8, which details the violations of the Section 7 rights, formally known as "unfair labor practice charges." Some examples of where your employer would be violating your Section 7 rights would be:
- Giving employees benefits during a union drive to encourage thier vote against forming a union
- Threatening employees with consequences if they support or participate in a union
- Prohibiting employees from talking about a union during working hours
- Spying on employees' union efforts — something out of the ordinary to observe union activity
- Firing employees who participate in concerted activity
- Preventing employees from wearing union symbols like t-shirts, hat, buttons
- Interviewing works to build a case against unfair labor practices
These are just a few examples of unfair labor practices described in Section 8 and are fully detailed on the NLRB website. It is important to understand the extent of these rights as described in the NLRA. Unfortunately, employers commonly violate these rights, so knowing your rights is essential for fair treatment.
How should you best protect your rights?
Now that you better understand your rights, you should explore more ways to build the bargaining power of the employees in your workplace and better educate yourself on how to spot violations of your Section 7 rights. Your efforts can make a significant impact and there are resources to help you get started!