Labor Unions in the Workplace

Currently, only about twelve percent of American workers are part of labor unions, which have declined steadily since the early eighties.  In essence, labor unions are organizations that represent the interests of large number of employees regarding employees issues, such as employer contract negotiations.  In order to receive these protections, labor union workers adhere to the contract terms they negotiate with labor unions, and in addition, pay labor union initiation and membership fees.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA)

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, among other things, most notably created the following laws regarding labor unions, including:

  • Established the employee legal rights to unionize
  • Created the National Labor Relations Board to monitor unions, the employees they represented, and their employers
  • Restricted the rights of employers to restrain employees from attempting to engage in collective activity to protect their interests
  • Restricted employers from stopping or contributing to the formation of any labor union
  • Restricted employers from encouraging or discouraging labor union membership their discriminatory workplace practices, such as hiring, firing, wage rate, promotion, and workplace conditions
  • Restricted employers from firing employees due to their filing charges under the NLRA
  • Restricted employers from ignoring the right of workers to bargain collectively through a majority representative
  • Required all employers engaged in interstate commerce to adhere to these laws
  • Exempted managers, executives, and employees party to sensitive information from NLRA protections
  • Exempted all government workers from NLRA protections

Labor Management Relations Act

Following the establishment of the NLRA, Congress faced numerous problems from union power struggles that threatened national security, including the food supply.  In response, the LMRA of 1947, otherwise referred to as the Taft-Hartley Act, was established.  The Act sought to restrain overzealous labor unions and restrict labor unions from:

  • Demanding excessive initiation or membership fees from employees or employers
  • Influencing work stoppages to work productivity to force interests of labor union
  • Causing discrimination by employers against employees due to non-membership to union
  • Restraining employees exercising their rights under the NLRA

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959

In the third round of federal legislation over labor unions, Congress established another body of law balancing the power of labor unions, employers, and employees. Most notably from this act, an ethical code of conduct was established for employers, union officials, unions as a whole, and management consultants requiring fair dealing in all affairs

Common Types of Labor Unions

Within the realm of labor unions, there are segregated entities established around a bargaining unit of one group of workers that sometimes might be part of a larger labor union.  Each state has specific laws regarding labor unions; however, three main types of union work situations have emerged.

Open Shops

In an open shop, a labor union essentially represents your bargaining unit.  Members are not required to join, nor do they have to pay dues to the labor unit.   

Agency Shops

In states that have not passed right to labor work laws, labor unions may form an agency shop, which requires employees, regardless of membership status in the union, to pay labor union fees to work in a specific field.  In addition, the union is required to represent employee issue interests in collective bargaining situations and other labor problems.

Union Shops

In union shops, workers are not required to join the union immediately at taking a job, but must do so after a grace period per your employment contract. Employers can only fire employees refusing to join a labor union if the labor union rejects your membership due to non-payment of dues or fees. 

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