Federal labor law is grounded in the National Labor Relations Act, which permits unions to organize and prohibits employers from engaging in unfair labor practices. Amendments to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), such as the Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Act, declare certain acts of unions and employees also to be unfair labor practices.
The National Labor Relations Board supervises union elections and decides in contested cases which union should serve as the exclusive bargaining unit, and it also investigates allegations of unfair labor practices and provides remedies in appropriate cases.
Once elected or certified, the union is the exclusive bargaining unit for the employees it represents. Because the employer is barred from interfering with employee communications when the union is organizing for an election, he may not prohibit employees from soliciting fellow employees on company property but may limit the hours or spaces in which this may be done. The election campaign itself is an intricate legal duel; rewards, threats, and misrepresentations that affect the election are unfair labor practices.
The basic policy of the labor laws is to foster good-faith collective bargaining over wages, hours, and working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may not compel agreement: it may not order the employer or the union to adopt particular provisions, but it may compel a recalcitrant company or union to bargain in the first place.
Among the unfair labor practices committed by employers are these:
- Discrimination against workers or prospective workers for belonging to or joining unions. Under federal law, the closed shop and preferential hiring are unlawful. Some states outlaw the union shop, the agency shop, and maintenance-of-membership agreements.
- Interference with strikes. Employers may hire replacement workers during a strike, but in a strike over an unfair labor practice, as opposed to an economic strike, the replacement workers may be temporary only; workers are entitled to their jobs back at the strike’s end.
Among the unfair labor practices committed by unions are these:
- Secondary boycotts. Workers may not picket employers not involved in the primary labor dispute.
- Hot cargo agreements. An employer’s agreement, under union pressure, to refrain from dealing with certain people or purchasing their products is unlawful.