The The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives most workers a legal right to build and participate in a union and to work together with other workers to speak up about workplace issues.

Workers have the right to:

  • organize or join a union;
  • bargain as a group with your boss;
  • go on strike to improve working conditions;
  • participate in “concerted activities” – when a group of workers do something together.

The law also protects workers even when they are not building a Union, like when workers talk together about working conditions and how to make things better. For example, if a group of workers signs a petition to their boss or goes together to the foreman to complain, that’s protected activity.

The NLRA says:
Section 7: “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representation of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining . . . .”

Workers have legal protection when they:

  • Go to meetings about a union or workplace issues
  • Read or hand out union flyers in non-work areas during breaks or lunch time
  • Wear union buttons, T-shirts, stickers, hats or other items on the job at most work-sites (talk to the union or the NLRB if your company has dress code rules)
  • Sign a union authorization card
  • Sign a petition or file a grievance about problems at work
  • Ask other employees to support the union or to do other things on this list
  • Talk with coworkers about wages or working conditions.

Basically, if it’s something that you can do if it wasn’t about the union, you can do it for the union. For example, if you are in a place and time of day when you can talk to co-workers about the football game or weekend plans, you can talk about the union; if you can wear a button or t-shirt with your child’s picture or a ball team logo, you can wear a union button or shirt.

Remember – you still have to follow the rules of your workplace. When you are standing up for your rights, be careful not to give your boss an excuse to fire you. You have some protection – but not if you break rules. Technically, you can’t be held to different standards than other workers, but it’s better to keep your actions completely above debate.

Section 8(a): “It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer . . . to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7. . . .”

That means that the Company is NOT supposed to:Supervisors and Other Management Included: →

Fire, reprimand, assign to less desirable jobs or otherwise prejudice the employment status of a worker because of his or her union views or sympathies (or because he or she complains about working conditions).

Threaten employees in any way to deter them from union activity.

Retaliate against employees who file NLRB charges or give testimony to the NLRB.

Say you will close down the company or move it to another location if your employees vote for the union.

Cut out employee privileges, suddenly crack down on tardiness or absenteeism, institute tougher work rules or otherwise attempt to punish employees for union activity.

Question employees about their union views, activities, or sympathies.

Question employees about the causes of their dissatisfaction and expressly or imply promise to make corrections.

Ask an employee if he or she has signed a union “authorization card,” or attended a union meeting, if he or she intends to, whether other employees have, or why anyone has done so.

Question an employee as to how he or she is going to vote in an NLRB election.

Promise or grant employees pay increases or new benefits during a union drive for the purpose of making unionization less attractive to them.

Engage in spying on employees concerning their union activities (for example, standing or parking outside of a union meeting place).

Give workers the impression that company representatives are engaging in spying on their union activities.

Enforce company rules strictly against union supporters, while being lenient toward pro-company employees.

Connive to make a union supporter quit his or her job by purposely assigning him or her undesirable work, or by deliberately imposing intolerable conditions on his or her employment so that he or she is pressured into quitting.

Visit employees at their homes to systematically solicit their support against the union.

Sponsor or circulate an anti-union petition among the employees.

Take a poll of employees to see what their views are concerning unionization

Interview employees one at a time or in small groups concerning their union views or opinions.

Hold election campaign meetings with groups of employees on company time during the 24 hours immediately preceding the opening of the NLRB election polls.

Solicit or assist employees in revoking authorization cards or in resigning from the union.

State flatly that you will never bargain with the union.

Tell employees that the company will definitely never grant the union’s demands and that there will definitely be a strike.

Prevent employees from talking with each other about the union, handing out or signing union cards during their non-work free time, including before and after work, at lunch, or during break times.

Prohibit employees from passing out union literature in nonworking areas on their own non-work free time.

Distribute to employees or make available anti-union buttons for employees to wear (although employees are free to make and distribute their own).

Stress the inevitability of strikes and incessantly dwell on the probability of violence and personal injury, particularly where the information mentioned relates to a different union than the one seeking support from the company’s employees.

Base the company’s campaign overwhelmingly on an emotional appeal rooted in racial prejudice.

Misrepresent NLRB processes or procedures.

Promise or give employees special favors for influencing other employees against the union.

Use third parties in the community to threaten employees or coerce them because of their union activities.

Carry out necessary layoffs in such a manner as to deliberately weed out union supporters.

Question employment applicants as to whether they are or have been union members.

Unfortunately, management often breaks these rules to try to keep workers from standing up for their rights. Keep notes (with witnesses, dates, times, and locations) of each time management breaks these rules. It may be important during your campaign or to protect workers who are threatened.

If your boss breaks the law by discriminating against you because of union activity, you have to show that:

  • you participated in a protected activity
  • your boss knew that you were involved (it’s not enough that everyone knew)

You have 180 days to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency responsible for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act. Usually, your Union organizer will help you file the charge. These are rights granted to workers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).