The National Labor Relations Act, also referred to as the Wagner Act or simply as NLRA, protects workers' rights, regardless of whether they belong to a union. All workers -- union and nonunion -- have the right to act collectively, according to the NLRA. Section 8 of the act defines what constitutes unfair labor practices by employers, by labor unions, and by employers and labor unions together.
Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act is essential for a clear understanding of Section 8 of the act. Section 7 clarifies employees' rights to act collectively in seeking representation by a labor union, and it also protects the rights of employees who don't want union representation.
The only exception concerning the protection of employees' rights who don't want to be union supporters is when the employer is located in a state that is not a right-to-work state. In a right-to-work state, employees aren't required to join a union, nor are they required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. In states that are not right-to-work jurisdictions, employees must at least pay union dues, even if they choose not to be active, full-fledged and participatory union members. Right-to-work laws often are confused with the employment-at-will doctrine; they affect two very different aspects of employment, and are not connected in any way.
Section 8(a) addresses employers' obligations pertaining to unfair labor practices, or ULPs. Employers are prohibited from activities that interfere with their employees' rights to act collectively. Under Section 8(a) of the act, employers cannot retaliate against employees who have exercised their rights to file a ULP charge against the company, or against employees who testify on behalf of another employee who filed a ULP charge. Employers also are prohibited from intentional acts that prevent collective bargaining. For example, an employer can't repeatedly cancel, or otherwise purposely stall, collective bargaining sessions to negotiate a labor union contract.
Section 8(b) applies to labor unions. Labor unions also are prohibited from activities that stall or purposely suspend collective bargaining sessions. Labor unions also are required to respect another labor union's representation of workers at an employer's site. For example, if the Labor Union A represents workers at ABC Company, Labor Union B can't force ABC Company to recognize the union as a representative for the company's employees. Importantly, Section 8(b) makes it illegal for a labor union to picket the employer's premises to force the company to recognize the labor union as its employees' representative. There's an election process that the National Labor Relations Board conducts that gives employees the right to choose whether they want a labor union to represent them.
Employers and labor unions have the right to express their views about labor unions, and about the benefits and drawbacks of union membership, according to Section 8(c) of the NLRA -- though neither employers nor labor unions can make threatening remarks in response to Section 7 of the NLRA. For example, during a pre-election campaign, employees receive communications from both the labor union and their employer about the pros and cons of union membership. Section 8(c) prohibits employers from making statements such as, "If you vote for a union, the company will probably go out of business," and it prohibits labor unions from making statements such as, "We'll make life difficult for you if you don't vote in favor of the union."
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.