The NLRA is the primary federal law governing the relationship between private employers and unions other than employers who are carries under the Railway Labor Act. The NLRA and regulations promulgated by the National Labor Relations govern union representation campaigns and elections and unfair labor practices by employers and unions. Areas to be aware of include the following:
(1) Election Campaigns
Employers need to seek counsel when dealing with labor unions during a union election campaign. Some matters to be avoided include:
- Not inquiring about employees’ activities or sympathies during the campaign
- Not promising to establish a grievance committee if one did not exist before the election campaign began
- Being careful not to make specific promises while a campaign is pending
- Not threatening employees with loss of benefits or jobs for supporting the union
- Treating union sympathizers or supporters more harshly or differently
Management can, however, advise employees that any promises made by the union should be in writing and that the union can obtain for them no more than what management agrees to after good faith bargaining. If the company’s benefits are better than other union and nonunion companies, then such a disclosure can be made.
Also, the company can point out the costs of joining a union and certain disadvantages of belonging to a union. In effect, management is allowed to campaign against the union during the union election campaign so long as there are no threats or discriminatory actions taken. For instance, the company could advise employees that it prefers to deal with them on a personal basis but if a union is authorized, then they cannot present grievances to management confidentially.
(2) Negotiating Union Contracts
If a union is authorized, management and union are required to meet to bargain in good faith over material terms such as wages, hours, vacation time, safety practices and other terms. If an impasse occurs, the union can file a charge of unfair labor practices before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). There are certain criteria the NLRB reviews to see if both parties are bargaining in good faith, have been actively participating, have been willing to meet at reasonable times and if representatives with the authority to make decisions are at the negotiating table.
(3) Grievance and Arbitration Proceedings
Grievance and arbitration proceedings are governed by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union and an employer. Usually, the first step in the grievance process is that the employee has a right to discuss the issue with the supervisor with or without a union representative although the union must be informed. The employer cannot settle any grievance regarding wages, benefits, hours or other conditions of employment without the union.
For a discipline case, the employer may be asked to explain and justify its actions and provide all its evidence to the union steward. The steward will have to state the case outlining what had happened, what part of the contract or past practice was violated and the remedy requested.
Arbitration is provided for in collective bargaining agreements. The arbitration process is used when the grievance cannot be resolved through the grievance process. The NLRB has the authority to defer to the arbitration process regarding any unfair labor practices. The NLRB may defer to the decision of an arbitrator if:
- The collective bargaining agreement provides for final and binding arbitration
- The employer was willing to process the grievance and arbitrate if necessary
- The employer waived any time limitations
- The grievance or charges are likely to be resolved through the grievance/arbitration process