The National Labor Relations Act
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935. The law created the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the relationships between employers, unions, and employees. The law requires that employers and unions negotiate in good faith to agree to terms and contracts. The NLRA prevents employers from:
- Interfering with attempts by employees to organize, bargain collectively, or engage in other concerted activities
- Preventing the formation of labor organizations
- Using discrimination to encourage or discourage membership in labor organizations
- Retaliating against employees filing a claim under the law
- Refusing to bargain with an employee representative
The NLRA covers most employers and employees, with some exclusions. Excluded are managers, independent contractors, farmworkers, employers’ families, government workers, confidential employees, and domestic workers. Certain industries are exempt from the law because other laws cover them. This includes railroad workers.
The Labor Management Relations Act
Also known as the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) sought to rein in union power and overreach allowed by the NLRA. After the passing of the NLRA, unions began using violence and threats to coerce workers to join.
The LMRA banned these practices. It bans unions from coercion, attempts to influence employers to discriminate against employees over union membership, refusing to bargain in good faith, and work stoppages to force employers to consider union matters.
The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act
A third amendment to the NLRA came in 1959 with the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. It set rules for the conduct of employers, unions, union officers, and consultants. The idea was to enforce fair dealing in labor-employer relations and negotiations.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers several other aspects of labor, primarily wages. It establishes a federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. The law ensures that workers get overtime pay. It defines hours worked and requires employers to keep records for employee time and pay. The law also addresses child labor to protect minors.
State Labor Laws
Federal labor laws cover most workers and businesses. They provide the guidelines for organizing and the union rights of employees. They also set the minimum standards for wages, hours, and child labor. States can set their own laws to go above and beyond federal protections.
Many states set higher minimum wages for employees than federal law guarantees. California, for instance, has the highest minimum wage at $14 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees. The District of Columbia and New York City have a $15 per hour minimum wage. Applicable businesses in states with no minimum wage or a rate lower than the federal level must comply with the federal law.
States can also pass laws related to unions. Twenty-seven states, and Guam, have Right-to-Work laws. These laws ban contracts between unions and employers that only include unionized workers. This means that workers do not have to pay union dues but are still represented by the union in collective bargaining. The overall impact of these laws is to reduce the bargaining power of a union.
What Labor Rights Are Guaranteed by the Law?
Employees have several rights under federal labor laws:
- The right to attempt to form or to form a union
- The right to join a union, even if the employer does not recognize the union
- The right to organize employees for a union
- The right to be represented fairly by a union
- The right to refuse to be involved in a union or any of its activities
- The right to earn at least a minimum wage and overtime pay for more than 40 hours worked per week
If you are not a member of a union, you still have certain rights under labor laws. Non-union employees can still engage with their employer or with each other in a concerted fashion. This means working together in a group of two or more workers to address wages, safety, and other workplace conditions.
What Should I Do if My Labor Rights Are Violated?
Document what has happened and keep a record of all communications with a union, representatives, or your employer. If your rights under the NLRA have been violated, you must file a claim with your local NLRB office.
The NLRB may dismiss your case, but you have a right to appeal. A lawyer is not required for this process, but it can help to have one on your side. The laws can be confusing, and going up against a large company requires special knowledge and expertise.
If your employer has violated the FLSA by not paying you minimum wage or failing to provide overtime pay, you may be able to sue. Keep records of hours worked, wages, and any attempts to resolve the situation with your employer. Then contact a labor lawyer to help you take the next step, which may be to file a lawsuit to recover past wages.
Labor law is an important area of the law that protects millions of people. Most workers are covered under these laws, and when employers violate them, legal action may be warranted.