WHETHER UNIONIZED OR NOT, YOU HAVE RIGHTS AT WORK. HERE'S HOW THE NLRA PROTECTS YOU! 

 
 
 

What is the National Labor Relations Act?

Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935. This Act remains the most foundational piece of legislation for protecting the labor rights of private-sector employees. A long history of court decisions has strengthened this law to ensure 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 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.

The National Labor Relations Act protects you from an employer interfering with your freedom of speech at work. Here’s how! 

PROTECTED CONCERTED ACTIVITY:

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.

SECTION 7 RIGHTS:

Collective bargaining and your right to join a union

SECTION 8 PROTECTIONS:

Understanding unfair labor practices and violations of section 7 rights

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FEEL YOUR RIGHTS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED

Good employers understand the benefits of having a unionized staff but it is all too common to experience union busting from an employer. As a result, 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. 

Many workers are concerned that banding together to improve labor conditions may prompt retaliation from their employer. However, many of these actions are legally protected through legislation and enforced by governmental agencies.

So, how do you know what is actions are protected? And how can you make sure you are fairly treated in the workplace?

 
What is Protected Concerted Activity?

 

Concerted activity is a legally protected class of actions when two or more workers act together to better their pay or working conditions. This activity can happen with or without a union, making it very common in the workplace.

Some examples of concerted activity would be:

  • A group of employees speaking to each other about unsafe working conditions

  • Two workers bringing up unequal pay to management

  • An employee discussing workplace grievances on behalf of a larger group of co-workers

 

The act further protects groups of employees from filing complaints to government agencies or speaking to the media about workplace labor concerns. Knowing how this concerted activity is protected is essential to ensuring your rights are preserved.

 
How Concerted Activity is Protected

Concerted activity is clearly protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a federal law that protects various employee rights in the workplace. Specifically, an employer is not permitted to fire, threaten, or take disciplinary action against you for concerted activity.

When an employee believes their right to concerted activity has been violated, they have the right to file a complaint will be investigated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This federal agency is tasked with enforcing the NLRA and has regional offices across the country to facilitate this process. Often, complaints of unfair labor practices against employers will result in a settlement or court order to fix the violation highlighted by the complaint.

 
When is Concerted Activity not protected?

While concerted activity is widely protected, there are instances where your actions can remove the protections granted in the NLRA. Making knowingly false or deliberately offensive claims against your employer will not be protected. Further, publicly disparaging statements about your employer’s business are not covered by the NRLA unless they are connected to a specific labor dispute. In all cases, your complaints must be directly related to a labor controversy —like safety, pay, or benefits.

 
When Concerted Activity is Important

Concerted activity is fundamental to improving your working conditions. Working together is the most important way for employees to gain the bargaining power needed to shape company actions and policies. Here are some recent examples of protected concerted activity where the NLRB had to intervene:

  • In a hotel in New Mexico, employees signed a letter of complaint protesting a wage cut. After the leaders of the effort were fired, the NLRB issued an order mandating back pay and re-hiring of affected employees.

  • A farmworker in California raised concerns on behalf of his fellow employees and his employer then fired him. Upon filing a complaint with the NLRB, the worker's employer settled, providing back pay and an offer for his original job.

  • A welder in Florida brought a petition to his employer complaining of poor living conditions on the job site. After he was fired, the NLRB stepped in, forcing the employer to pay lost wages.

 

Unfortunately, violations of protected concerted activity are all too common, so knowing your rights is essential for fair treatment.

 

Which rights are protected under Section 7?

 

For employees, the most fundamental section of the NLRA is Section 7, which details their specific right to access power in the 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.

 

Learn More About Starting A Union  

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?

 

Section 8 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 their 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, hats, buttons

  • Interviewing workers 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. 

SECTION 8 OF THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT - PROTECTING YOUR LABOR RIGHTS

How do you know which labor rights are protected so you can recognize when your employer has gone too far? Below we will explain the legal backing of your protected labor rights and how to identify possible violations, also known as unfair labor practices, when they arise.

Unfair Labor Practices in Section 8

The NLRA strictly prohibits employers from the following activities in Section 8, paragraphs 1-5:

  • Interfering with employees as they engage in concerted activity

  • Discriminating against an employee to discourage membership in a union

  • Refusing to bargain collectively with a representative of the employees

  • Interfering with the formation or administration of a union

  • Discriminating against a worker because they have filed unfair labor practice charges

 

Violations of these provisions are known as Unfair Labor Practices. Such violations are unfortunately common in the workplace, so it is essential to be equipped to spot them when they occur. Such employer actions can warrant a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the organization which enforces the NLRA.

Examples of Employer Interference with Workers' Rights

Here are some examples of when your employer would be violating your rights protected in the NLRA.

  • Giving employees benefits during a union drive to encourage their 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, hats, buttons

  • Interviewing workers to build a case against unfair labor practices

 

There are many examples of unfair labor practices, further described on the NLRB website. It is important to know your legally protected rights, since many people are unaware of the power they have in the workplace.

 

Enforcing Your Rights

If you believe your NLRA rights have been violated, you may file a charge against your employer with the National Labor Relations Board. You can find charge forms here. Please contact an information officer at your nearest NLRB Regional Office for assistance.