What are the boundaries, perks, and obligations of representation?
Sections 7, 8a1, and 8a3 of the NLRA protect certain activities undertaken by employees
Usually, these activities involve a collective bargaining relationship,
but the law protects “concerted activity,” even if it falls short of that goal.
Are workers who wish to speak out together, but are not interested in union
representation, also protected from reprisal by their employer?
Since 1914, federal legislation has repeatedly affirmed the legality of workers acting
in concert in order to change the terms and conditions of their employment:
The Clayton Act of 1914 exempts labor organizations from antitrust provisions, in
part because “the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of
The Norris LaGuardia Act of 1932 withdraws the jurisdiction of federal courts to
issue injunctions in labor disputes, except to the extent necessary to curtail
violence or fraud, because, in the words of section 2, “the individual unorganized
worker is commonly helpless to exercise actual liberty of contract and to protect
his freedom of labor, and thereby to obtain acceptable terms and conditions of
The Railway Labor Act of 1926 requires railway and airline companies to bargain
with labor organizations when a majority of company workers have chosen
The NLRA imposes a bargaining obligation on employers in private industry and,
in section 7, recognizes for workers “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 concerted activities for the purpose of collective
bargaining and other mutual aid and protection.”
NLRB v. City Disposal Systems
1984, Supreme Court
Employee James Brown refused to drive a truck he believed to be unsafe; he
was later dismissed.
The collective bargaining agreement contained a promise from City Disposal
Systems that employees not be asked to drive unsafe trucks.
When an employee invokes a right grounded in a collective bargaining
agreement, is he or she engaging in concerted activity?