Unions exist for the sole purpose of representing the interests of workers, especially in collective bargaining with employers. Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation between the employer and the labor union representatives to determine the key conditions of employment. The result of these efforts is the collective bargaining agreement. This collective bargaining agreement is a contract that is the starting place for resolving conflicts between the employer and its employees. Collective bargaining and union organization is governed by the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). If you are organizing a workplace or engaging in collective bargaining from either side of the table, contact a labor lawyer for experienced counsel on union issues.
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
The NLRA governs employee organization and collective bargaining. It also prevents unfair labor practices by both employers and unions. Under the NLRA, employees have the right to decide whether to have a union represent them for bargaining purposes. As part of the NLRA, Congress gave the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) the authority to conduct secret ballot elections on the issue, usually in the workplace of the voting employees. A secret ballot election is conducted when a petition to have such an election has been filed with the NLRB. If the petition for a secret ballot election is approved, such election is held by the regional NLRB office; if a majority of ballots cast approves the decision to organize, the workers at that location will be entitled to organize into a formal union. A similar procedure applies when workers wish to decertify a representative or a union that represents them.
The NLRA does not apply to all workers. The Act specifically excludes from coverage those workers who are:
- Agricultural workers
- Domestic servants
- Employed by a parent or spouse
- Independent contractors
- Supervisors and managers
- Employed subject to the Railway Labor Act
- Employed by state, local or federal government entity
- Employed by anyone who is not defined as an employer under the NLRA
If the workers agree to unionize, the individual employees will then become members of the union and will pay dues into the union to cover the costs of the services provided. A company may have union and non-union workers at the same location.
The NLRA, which establishes procedures for selection of a labor organization to represent employees in collective bargaining, forbids employers from interfering in this process. Under the NLRA, the employer is required to bargain solely with the representative chosen by the employees.
Unions represent employees in collective bargaining processes with employers on a number of issues, including wages and salaries, benefits such as health care insurance and paid time off, general working conditions, and health and safety standards in the workplace. Unions can be useful to employees because they are experienced in negotiation and familiar with the governing laws. Unions that represent a large number of workers usually are in a stronger negotiating position than each worker would be individually.
Eligible workers have the right to elect to have a qualified labor organization represent their interests in the bargaining process. If you have a question about organizing or collective bargaining, contact an experienced employment law attorney to determine what rights you may have.