Most employers are not fond of labor unions. They may see them as disruptive, counterproductive, and a source of unwanted expenses. However, both the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Taft-Hartley Act prohibit employers from discriminating against employees for participating in union activities. This leaves many employers asking what they can and cannot do when dealing with labor unions.
What Employers Cannot Do
It is probably wise to begin the discussion with identifying the things an employer cannot do when dealing with labor unions. The first, and most obvious, is that employers cannot discriminate in any way against employees who participate in union activities. This includes every aspect of the employer-employee relationship. Similarly, the employer cannot grant benefits (like raises, extra vacation, or other perks) or make threats (like firing, layoffs, or plant closures) in an effort to discourage employees from union activities.
Less obviously, employers must also avoid certain activities that might imply a threat, such as interrogating employees about union activities, preventing discussions about unionization during breaks or nonworking hours, prohibiting union insignias on clothes, or engaging in surveillance to determine opinions on unionization. Employers also cannot take their own straw polls to determine employee interest in unionization except in special circumstances.
In essence, the point of these prohibitions is to prevent employers from overtly or indirectly preventing employees from discussing unionization. Under the law, unionization is a right and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) takes the rights of collective bargaining organizations quite seriously. Activities intended to directly or indirectly undermine those activities will be strictly scrutinized for compliance with the law.
The Gray Zone
Although not necessarily considered illegal unfair labor practices, there are also a number of activities that the NLRB might use to invalidate the results of an election. These include:
– Campaigning against unionization on company time and premises within 24 hours of an NLRB-scheduled election.
– Reproducing and distributing the official NLRB ballots with instructions showing employees how the employer wishes for them to vote.
– Discussing unionization with employees in a supervisor’s office, even if the conversation is “non-coercive.”
– Prohibiting the distribution of union literature in non-work areas during non-work hours.
– Requiring employees to wear buttons, shirts, or other apparel saying things like “Vote No.”
What Employers Can Do
Now that you know what employers cannot do, you may be wondering what is left that can be done. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of options that allow you to safely discuss with your employees why you believe unionization may not be good choice:
– You may hold meetings with employees on company time and property to answer questions and discuss the company’s position regarding unionization.
– You can mail carefully worded literature to the employees’ homes. This literature can feature topics like “The Benefits of
– Working for Your Company”
– Remind them that signing union authorization cards does not mean they have to vote for the union.
– Describe the disadvantages of belonging to a union.
– Tell them of your prior experiences with unions.
– Describe how wages and benefits compare with unionized and non-unionized companies with less desirable packages.
– Disclose known criminals involved with unions.
– Express the hope that employees vote against the union.
Get Help With Your Union Questions Today
Remember, it is possible to defeat unionization while still following the law. However, there are many ways to run afoul of labor relations laws. Therefore, you should seek legal advice promptly when working with unions. John J. Zidziunas & Associates will provide you with expert help in your union and labor relations concerns, offering advice and representation through every step of the process. Contact us today by email or by calling 973-509-8500 for a free 30-minute consultation.
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