How to Enforce Your Rights
If you believe your rights or the rights of others have been violated, you should contact the National Labor Relations Board promptly to protect your rights, generally within six months of the unlawful activity. You may make inquiries of the NLRB without your employer or a union, or anyone else being informed of the inquiry. A charge against an employer or union must be filed to initiate an investigation; charges may be filed by any person and need not be filed by the employee directly affected by the violations. Employees should seek assistance from the nearest Regional NLRB office, which can be found by clicking “Contact NLRB” above. It is illegal for an employer or union to retaliate against employees for filing charges or participating in NLRB investigation or proceedings.
If the NLRB determines that your rights have been violated by an employer or a union, you may be awarded appropriate remedial relief. For example, if an employer has unlawfully fired an employee, the NLRB may order the employer to rehire the employee and to pay the employee lost wages and benefits. Likewise, if a union’s unlawful conduct has caused an employee to lose a job, the NLRB may order the union to seek the employee’s reinstatement and to make the employee whole financially. In all cases, the NLRB seeks to undo as much as possible the effects of whatever unlawful conduct has occurred, including by ordering the employer or union to stop violating the law and to post a remedial notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
Are You Covered?
Excluded from coverage under the Act are public-sector employees (employees of state, federal and local governments and their sub-divisions), agricultural and domestic workers, independent contractors, workers employed by a parent or spouse, employees of air and rail carriers covered by the Railway Labor Act, and supervisors (although supervisors that have been discriminated against for refusing to violate the NLRA may be covered).
Collective bargaining rights
The National Labor Relations Act gives you the right to bargain collectively with your employer through a representative that you and your coworkers choose. What does that mean?
Your union and employer must bargain in good faith about wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment until they agree on a labor contract or reach a stand-off or “impasse.” If negotiations reach an impasse, an employer can impose terms and conditions so long as it offered them to the union before impasse was reached. Once a contract is in place, neither party may deviate from its terms without the other party’s consent, absent extraordinary circumstances. If a contract expires before the next contract is in place, almost all the terms of the expired contract continue while the parties bargain (the exceptions being union security, management rights, no-strike/no-lockout, and arbitration provisions).
You have the right to act with co-workers to address work-related issues in many ways. Examples include: talking with one or more co-workers about your wages and benefits or other working conditions, circulating a petition asking for better hours, participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions, openly talking about your pay and benefits, and joining with co-workers to talk directly to your employer, to a government agency, or to the media about problems in your workplace. Your employer cannot discharge, discipline, or threaten you for, or coercively question you about, this “protected concerted” activity. A single employee may also engage in protected concerted activity if he or she is acting on the authority of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action. However, you can lose protection by saying or doing something egregiously offensive or knowingly and maliciously false, or by publicly disparaging your employer’s products or services without relating your complaints to any labor controversy.
Whether or not you are represented by a union, federal law gives you the right to join together with coworkers to improve your lives at work – including joining together in cyberspace, such as on Facebook.
Federal law protects your right to engage in not only union activity, but also “protected concerted” activity. You have the right to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions with co-workers and with a union. You have the right to take action with one or more co-workers to improve your working conditions by, among other means, raising work-related complaints directly with your employer or with a government agency, or seeking help to form a union. Using social media can be a form of protected concerted activity. You have the right to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions with coworkers on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media. But just individually griping about some aspect of work is not “concerted activity”: what you say must have some relation to group action, or seek to initiate, induce, or prepare for group action, or bring a group complaint to the attention of management. Such activity is not protected if you say things about your employer that are egregiously offensive or knowingly and deliberately false, or if you publicly disparage your employer’s products or services without relating your complaints to any labor controversy.
Right to strike and picket
You cannot be fired for participating in a protected strike or picketing, depending on the purposes and means of the strike action.
Under federal law, you cannot be fired for participating in a protected strike or picketing against your employer. There are limitations and qualifications on the exercise of that right. Most strikes are protected, but certain kinds of strikes are not protected, depending on the object or purpose of the strike, on its timing, or on the conduct of the strikers. You can be lawfully fired for participating in an unprotected strike.
When a protected strike ends, you are entitled to return to work. If the reason for the strike was, in whole or in part, to protest one or more unfair labor practices, strikers must be immediately reinstated. If the strike was over economic issues, you are likewise entitled to immediate reinstatement except that if your employer hired permanent replacements, returning strikers are placed on a preferential hiring list. Your right to reinstatement may be lost if you have engaged in violence or other serious misconduct in connection with your strike or picketing activities.
Have a union, but don’t want it anymore, or want a different one?
Under certain circumstances, you can vote out or “decertify” your union, or replace it with a different union. At least 30% of your coworkers must sign cards or a petition asking the NLRB to conduct an election. Unless a majority of the votes cast in the election are in favor of union representation, the union it will be decertified. Such elections are barred, however, for one year following the union’s certification by the NLRB. Plus, if your employer and union reach a collective-bargaining agreement, you cannot ask for a decertification election (or an election to bring in another union) during the first three years of that agreement, except during a 30-day “window period.” That period begins 90 days and ends 60 days before the agreement expires (120 and 90 days if your employer is a healthcare institution). After a collective-bargaining agreement passes the three-year mark or expires, you may ask for an election to decertify your union or to vote in another union at any time.
Right to fair representation
You have a right to be represented by your union fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination.
Your union has the duty to represent all employees – whether members of the union or not-fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination. This duty applies to virtually every action that a union may take in dealing with an employer as your representative, including collective bargaining, handling grievances, and operating exclusive hiring halls. For example, a union which represents you cannot refuse to process a grievance because you have criticized union officials or because you are not a member of the union. But the duty does not ordinarily apply to rights a worker can enforce independently – such as filing a workers’ compensation claim – or to internal union affairs – such as the union’s right to discipline members for violating its own rules.
The amount of dues collected from employees represented by unions is subject to federal and state laws and court rulings. The NLRA allows unions and employers to enter into union-security agreements which require the payment of dues or dues equivalents as a condition of employment.
Federal law allows unions and employers to enter into “union-security” agreements which require all employees in a bargaining unit to become union members and begin paying union dues and fees within 30 days of being hired. Employees may choose not to become union members and pay dues, or opt to pay only that share of dues used directly for representation, such as collective bargaining and contract administration. Known as objectors, they are no longer union members, but are still protected by the contract. Unions are obligated to tell all covered employees about this option, which was created by a Supreme Court ruling and is known as the Beck right.
If you work in a state that bans union-security agreements, (24 states), each employee at a workplace must decide whether or not to join the union and pay dues, even though all workers are protected by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union. The union is still required to represent all workers.
You may object to union membership on religious grounds, but in that case, you must pay an amount equal to dues to a nonreligious charitable organization.