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Federal Law Protect Workers Attempting to Join UnionsResearch Paper

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Unions in the United States

The Role of Unions

The role of unions has been dwindling down quite a bit over the past sixty years of so, according to the textbook Human Resource Management (Chapter 12). Leaders in the union movement would of course like to see a reversal of that trend, but the text points out that in the 1950s thirty-six percent of all workers in American were members of a union. That percentage has dropped to eleven percent in recent years.

Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the percentage of workers that are in unions was 20.1% in 1983 and there were 17.7 million union workers (bls.gov); in 2013, the percentage of workers in unions was 11.3% and there were 14.5 million union workers (bls.gov). The rate of union membership is the highest in the public sector (35.3%; there are 7.2 million union workers); and in education, training, protective services (law enforcement, firefighters) and library occupations the percentage of unions is 35.3% (bls.gov). And the union membership for men was 11.9% while for women it is 10.5% (bls.gov).

The Role HRM Plays Regarding Unions

The history of unions (and what human resource managers and company employers can and can't do) goes back to the 1930s and the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, which prevented the federal courts from issuing injunctions against "nonviolent labor disputes"; that Act also prohibited employers from "interfering with workers joining a union" (Human Resource Management / Chapter 12, p. 275). This was the first federal law applying to what employers could do when unions tried to organize. The Wagner Act of 1935 actually established the National Labor Relations Board and it provided that employers could not "interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees who form a union" (Human Resource Management, 275). Moreover, the employer in a shop where the union was coming in "…most bargain collectively with representatives of a union" (Human Resource Management, 275).

Today, human resource personnel absolutely must be familiar with federal laws regarding employee -- employer relationships during the time a union is recruiting employees to form a union. Employees have a right to unionize, to "join together to advance their interests as employees," and they also have the right to "refrain" from accepting a union in their workplace, according to the National Labor Relations Board (nlrb.gov). An employer may not interfere with, "restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights"; it is unlawful for an employer to give threats to employees, or to spy on them or interrogate them in any way, and a human resource manager should be well aware of all federal laws in regards to union organizing (nlrb.gov).

Another thing the HRM staff members should understand is that the employer cannot promise benefits or other enticements to coax employees to not join a union (nlrb.gov). An employer may not decide to recognize a union of its choice (not the majority of employees' choice), because that union would be friendlier to the employer (nlrb.gov). (In the construction industry this last employer prohibition does not apply.)

The employer has no legal right to discourage (or encourage) union activities by acting in a discriminatory fashion when it comes to hiring a new employee or giving tenure to an existing employee, the NLRB explains. An example of that is when an employer believes that a certain employee is working towards getting a union in the house and that employee is disciplined, demoted, laid off or otherwise punished for his activities (nlrb.gov).

When there is a union that has a majority of votes from employees, the employer has a "legal duty to bargain in good faith" with the representatives of the union, and the employer also is legally bound to sign any collective bargaining deal that has been reached by both parties (nlrb.gov). The responsibility of the employer is to refrain from making "certain changes" in the agreement without bargaining collectively with the union.

The human resource professionals should also be aware of the Landrum Griffin Act, which is also known as the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), which was passed into law in 1959. This legislation requires unions to hold "secret elections" and to submit their "annual financial reports to the U.S. Department of Labor" (Human Resource Management, 276). The purpose of the LMRDA was to "regulate the internal functioning of unions" and to reduce the possibility of corruption within the union movement. An example of corruption was uncovered when the Teamsters Union was found to be involved with "organized crime" in the 1950s (Human Resource Management, 276).

Employee Rights that Human Relations Managers Should Know About

The LMRDA guarantees specific rights to members of unions, and some of those rights are spelled out in the Bill of Rights for union members. For example, union members have: a) equal rights to participate in all union activities; b) full freedom of speech and assembly; c) a voice in dues, fees, related to union rules; d) the right to being legal action against the union or the employer; e) safeguards against improper discipline; f) the right to nominate candidates for union offices, to run for office, to cast a secret ballot, and to protest the outcome of an election (U.S. Department of Labor / dol.gov).

A union may not expel, or fine, or harass a union member who is exercising his or her rights under the LMRDA; and no one in management or in the union may "threaten to use force or violence to interfere with a union member" who is exercising rights under LMRDA (dol.gov). Any union officer who is in charge of union funds or union property has to be bonded in order to protect the union from losses; moreover, union officials who steal funds from the union (or embezzle funds) are subject to federal fines or imprisonment (dol.gov). Also, the union's fiscal officers must keep accurate records for at least five years.

As far as holding elections, unions must: a) hold elections by secret ballot at least every three years; b) records regarding elections must be kept for one year; c) every union member must be mailed a notice announcing an election at least 15 days in advance; d) no union funds should be used to promote the candidacy of anyone running for office; e) permit candidates to have election observers; and f) allow candidates to inspect the union's membership list at least once within 30 days of an election (dol.gov).

What Role Should the Government Play?

Under the LMRDA, and the NLRB, and the Department of Labor, the federal government has specific roles to play when it comes to overseeing the rights of workers, the rights of employers, and the way in which disputes are mitigated. These rules and guidelines have been discussed earlier in this paper.

Meanwhile the National Labor Relations Board has recently had to devise strategies and rules regarding what unions can and cannot do regarding social media. The NLRB began getting complaints in 2010 about certain Facebook postings by union members that may have violated federal law regarding the secrecy of elections. After investigating, the NLRB determined that there had been unlawful conduct by employers. An example of using social media in ways that violate federal labor laws, it was found that a union had videotaped interviews with employees "at a nonunion job site about their immigration status" and those videotaped interviews were posted on YouTube and on the local union's Facebook page (nlrb.gov).

In other cases, a report issued by the NLRB in 2012 showed that union members had posted comments on Facebook and had been discharged by employers; the firing of an employee because he or she griped about working conditions is not legal, according to the NLRB. Postings on Facebook by employers were found to be unlawful because "they interfered with the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act," which includes "…the right to discuss wages and working conditions with co-workers" (nlrb.gov). The government has the right to decide cases that come before the NLRB resulting from social media, and in 2012 the NLRB made a decision regarding the firing of a BMW salesman who posted photos and comments to his Facebook page.

The salesman had posted photos with "mocking comments" about fellow employees that were serving hot dogs at a "luxury BMW car event" (nlrb.gov). That same salesman had also posted photos and comments of an "embarrassing accident at an adjacent Land Rover dealership," and the NLRB ruled that he was fired "solely for the photos he posted of a Land Rover incident," which was not "concerted activity" and was not protected by labor laws, hence the firing was justified.

How Amazon Crushed the Union Movement

When some maintenance and repair technicians at Amazon.com tried to form a union, Amazon came up with a law firm that "specializes in fighting off organized labor (Kopytoff, 2014). Of course it is illegal for a company to interfere with union activities in a company, but apparently Amazon's attorneys knew… [END OF PREVIEW]

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