examples of unfair labor practices

The federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) tries to strike a balance between employee rights and the rights of employers.

In particular, the NLRA does not mandate that workers have unions, but it does allow workers to engage in concerted activity to improve their conditions of employment.

This concerted activity can take many forms, such as forming a union, joining a union, or engaging in other collective activities.

The NLRA also puts limits on unions and keeps them from dominating their membership. If workers no longer want a union, they can decertify the union or opt-out.

Below, we provide some unfair labor practices examples you should be on the lookout for.

What are Examples of Unfair Labor Practices?

Examples of Unfair Labor Practices by Management

Historically, employers have tried to prevent employees from working together to improve pay, benefits, or working conditions. However, it is illegal for employers to do the following:

  • Management cannot create its own union or dominate an existing union.
  • Management cannot interfere with the ability of employees to organize a union. For example, management cannot single out a conversation about unions and treat it differently than any other non-employment conversation.
  • Management cannot discriminate against employees to keep them from starting or joining a union. For example, management cannot lay off, transfer, or reassign workers because they are engaging in protected concerted activity.
  • Management cannot retaliate against an employee who provides testimony to the National Labor Relations Board or files a complaint with them.

Federal law does not allow employers to block employees from addressing workplace mistreatment.

Another area of concern is collective bargaining. If employees form a union, then federal law requires that employers bargain in good faith.

Many employers refuse to bargain honestly, scheduling bargaining for unreasonable times or refusing to even consider the union’s demands.

The NLRA does not require that either side reach an agreement or offer concessions, but the law does require that each side make an honest attempt to bargain.

We have discussed the NLRA’s prohibition of unfair labor practices by employers. Now let’s take a look at what some of these types of unfair labor practices might look like in the real world. 

Hypothetical Number One 

Imagine your employee handbook forbids wage discussions. For years, your pay rate remains the same, and you stay silent on the matter. 

Recently, you learned that younger employees with less experience and seniority are being paid significantly more than you.

On a break, you mention your disappointment about pay discrepancies to an older coworker who has as much experience as you.

Your coworker believes the difference in pay is unfair and decides to have a conversation with management.

Soon after your coworker’s wage conversation, your employer sends a company-wide email about the rule against discussing wages, and you and your coworker lose your jobs for violating the rule. 

An employer violates the NLRA if it prevents its employees from exercising their right to talk to each other about wages.

Talking to other employees about pay is also protected concerted activity under the NLRA.

In the above scenario, you could file legal action against your employer for NLRA violations. 

Hypothetical Number Two

Two neighbors (Worker A and Worker B) work in the same labor-intensive industry, but they work for different employers.

At a neighborhood barbecue, Worker A mentions how exhausted they and their coworkers become before the end of their shifts.

Worker B talks about how they used to experience the same exhaustion, but the terms of their new collective bargaining agreement provide more mid-day break time. 

There is no union at Worker A’s job, so they decide to pass around a petition at break time to see if their coworkers would be interested in unionizing.

Worker A’s employer learns of Worker A’s efforts and uses footage from break room cameras to determine who has signed the petition.

Worker A’s employer then sets up individual meetings with employees who signed the petition and tells them that there will likely be significant layoffs if a union is certified.

The employer’s behavior here could be an unlawful threat against the support of union activity.    

Unfair Labor Practices by Unions

Unions can also commit unfair labor practices and be sanctioned by the NLRB. There is also a long history of union intimidation and coercion.

The NLRA prohibits the following:

  • Unions cannot coerce workers into joining the union or staying in it. For example, unions cannot threaten a worker for exercising their right not to join.
  • Unions cannot start strikes for issues unrelated to the terms and conditions of employment.
  • Unions cannot charge excessive fees.
  • Unions cannot try to get employers to punish workers for them if they do not support or join a union
  • Unions cannot act as if they are the union for the workplace if they have not been properly certified.
  • Unions cannot commit misconduct on the picket line by assaulting or threatening workers who cross the picket line.
  • Unions cannot tell an employer who should be its bargaining representative.

Unions must also engage in good-faith bargaining. For example, unions cannot refuse to come to the bargaining table or refuse to listen to a proposal from management.

What might an unfair labor practice from a union look like? Consider the following example: 

You work at a factory where there is a new union and collective bargaining agreement. You initially declined to sign a pro-union petition but ultimately voted to unionize.

In your collective bargaining agreement, your employer must give you three 15-minute breaks per shift, but you have only been receiving two breaks.

You file a grievance through your union about this violation. It takes the union months to address your complaint, while more pro-union employees’ grievances are resolved within days of filing.

The union is likely punishing you for your lack of union support, and that punishment is illegal. 

There are countless unfair labor practices examples.

The best way to determine if you are a victim of unlawful workplace activity is to speak to an experienced employment attorney.  

Filing a Complaint

If you believe that management or a union has engaged in an unfair labor practice, then you can file a complaint with the NLRB.

You have six months from the date of the incident to file the complaint with the federal agency.

How a California Labor Lawyer Can Help

Labor disputes can be particularly acrimonious. And individual workers often feel caught in the middle between an employer and a union, neither of whom seems interested in trying to help. 

At the Workplace Rights Law Group, we represent workers in all sorts of employment disputes, including unfair practices at work.

If you have a question about your rights, then we want to hear from you.

One of our California attorneys is prepared to meet with you and answer any questions that you have. We offer a free initial consultation, which you can schedule by calling us today.

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