The NLRA and non-union workplaces

12 May

Non-union employers must take employee rights into account, even though they aren't unionized.

Unions are still important aspects of the U.S. work force. Even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims the percentage of the private sector workforce organized into unions has declined from 35 percent to 6.5 percent over the past 50 years, these groups remain an integral part of the daily grind for many employees.

In fact, as discussed on The Conversation, without unions, the fights to raise minimum wage and provide employees with paid sick leave wouldn't have succeeded or begun in the first place. Unions fundamentally help decrease inequality among workers around the nation.

After unionizing reached its high point in the 1950s, when one third of all non-farm workers were part of a union of some kind, unionization took a dramatic turn in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The NLRA and the NLRB
Today, non-union and union workers alike operate under the National Labor Relation Board and the National Labor Relations Act, both of which were created in 1935 to give more rights to workers. The NLRA is a federal mandate allowing employees to form unions, join unions, participate in "protected, concerted activities to address or improve working conditions" or decide against getting involved with unions at all. Section 7 of the NLRA deals directly with these rights, outlining all stipulations for employees and their employers.

Even though the number of private sector employees involved in unions has dramatically diminished over the years, the NLRA is still relevant to non-union workers. The NLRB is currently working hard to ensure that all workers, regardless of union affiliation or lack thereof, are able to get involved with the protected, concerted activities should they choose to do so.

As outlined by Lexis Nexis, protected, concerted activities are defined as actions taken by a group of two or more employees, or by one employee acting on behalf of an entire group, in response to any term or condition of employment. Terms and conditions of employment include, but are not limited to, salaries, hourly wages, working hours and benefits.

When employees participate in protected, concerted activity, it often involves protesting, formally complaining, striking, picketing or simply publicly calling attention to an issue the group takes with an employer.

What does this mean for non-union employees?
While both union and non-union employees are technically entitled to the same rights under Section 7, non-union parties may experience some differences. Non-union employees must be informed about their rights, as there are many situations in which an employer may try to control employee rights where it is not allowed to do so.

For instance, social media posting falls under the protected activity category. Employees are allowed to speak their minds on sites like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, in addition to being able to post complaints about working conditions such as wages, benefits, morale, office atmosphere, break times, overtime and more on public forums, employees are also allowed to talk about supervisors in a derogatory manner without fearing repercussions. 

However, any remarks critical of the employer's products and services are off limits. Section 7 prohibits employees, unionized or not, to defame their employer's reputation if the critique has nothing to do with working conditions. In addition, workplace and client confidentiality must not be breached. 

What does this mean for non-union employers?
When it comes to the employer side of the coin, the NLRB often favors unions, as it views an employee union enough of a security blanket to protect worker's rights. This means non-union employers may have a slightly more difficult time should its non-union employees decide to take action to change policies. The NLRB would have to be more involved.

Lexis Nexis recommended employers do anything they can to decrease the likelihood they'll have to become involved with the NLRB. It's wise for employers to review their current employee guidelines and policies, especially as they apply to common issues in the workplace. These guidelines must be just strict enough to comply with the NLRA's Section 7 stipulations while still offering employees enough freedom to discuss working terms as they see fit and organize as necessary. 

For non-union employers, obtaining a human resources management solution is a good step in the direction of compliance. The right platform can help companies better serve their employees and eliminate the chance the organization will violate Section 7 rules. 

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