ZIGARELLI. CAN THEY DO THAT?: UNIONS
After publicly firing three employees who started the drive for a union, the plant manager made
an announcement. "I'll tell
you what unions are all about!" the manager roared over the
loudspeaker. "They're about striking, picketing, boycotts, violence, and corruption! They'll bleed
a company dry and then, like your three disloyal friends here, none of you will have a job! If you
know what's good for you, you'll tell this union to go to
hell on election day!"
Unions are struggling to maintain both their membership and their reputation these days. It
seems that the only time they attract any press is when they appear to be functioning contrary to
the public interest. There's certainly more to the story though. Unions came into existence to
protect workers from gross mistreatment by their employers, and to this day they generally work
hard to protect members from exploitation and poverty.
If you're in a union, you probably know what I'm talking about. High wages, good benefits,
reasonable hours, job security, fair treatment-you may have them all. Employment at will is a
foreign concept to you because you have a written contract that clearly spells out the conditions
for dismissal. But others of you may be dissatisfied with your union. Maybe you had to join and
are required to pay dues against your wishes. Maybe you think the union treats you with less
respect than your company ever did. Opinions on this point tend to vary greatly.
No matter what your opinion, it's essential that you know your rights. Even if you're not covered
by a union contract, you should still be familiar with the law that allows you to join a union. This
chapter advises you on your rights to organize a union, to participate in union activity, and to
refrain from such activity.
Government regulation of the relationships among companies, unions, and union members is
called "labor law." The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and its later amendments provide
the federal framework for labor law in the private sector. Public employees are not protected by
the NLRA but instead by individual state laws (described later). Similarly, the NLRA excludes
supervisors, managers, agricultural workers, domestic servants, independent contractors, and
those covered by another labor law, the Railway Labor Act (for railroad and airline employees),
from its coverage. If you don't fit into one of these categories, chances are that the NLRA
protects your right "to form, join, or assist labor organizations .
.. and to refrain from any and all
What specific rights does the NLRA offer you? The law says that your company cannot fire you,
discipline you, or discriminate against you in any way for joining a union or for attempting to get
a union to represent you and your coworkers. In other words, you have the right to start a union
organizing drive and to solicit support from your fellow workers. If there's a significant amount
of support for the union in your company, the union will ask the National Labor Relations Board