Unions are something that most Americans have heard about. In the past, the media covered unions like the Major League Baseball Players Union. During the Great Recession and the auto bankruptcies, there was much coverage of the Auto Workers Union. The airlines consistently negotiate with unions representing pilots and mechanics. Unions are nothing new on the American landscape.
Origin of Unions
Organized unionizing dates back to 18th century Europe during the Industrial Revolution. At the time, factories sprung up all over the place, creating a need for workers to produce in the factories. Across the pond in the then-British Colonies, labor organizations took root. The trend continues to this day.
Perhaps the most famous labor union in the United States is the AFL-CIO. The American Federation of Labor, or AFL, was founded by Samuel Gompers in 1886. The Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, was founded by John L. Lewis. The two unions merged after World War II to become the AFL-CIO, often credited with enhancing pay and conditions for workers.
Perhaps the most famous union is the Teamsters Union, which was headed by James Riddle “Jimmy” Hoffa from 1962 until his mysterious disappearance in 1975. Hoffa’s disappearance triggered many theories, newspaper articles, television shows, books, and more. James Hoffa Jr. currently heads the Teamsters Union.
After the formation of unions and the growing number of collective bargaining sessions between employers and employees, the United States Congress moved to codify laws that govern collective bargaining between employers and employees. This led to the creation of the bodies of law known as labor law and employment law.
Labor Law v. Employment Law
Although the terms “labor law” and “employment law” are similar and often used interchangeably, the two have different meanings. Labor law refers to the collective aspects of the law of the employment relationship, governing the relations between unions, employers, and employees, whereas employment law refers to individual aspects of the law of the employment relationship. Such individual aspects include protections for and restrictions on employees. Employment law applies irrespective of whether the employee has union representation. The states, through their contract, tort, and agency law and particular statutes are active in this area.
There are numerous employment law statutes. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which establishes minimum wages and requires payment of overtime pay for work in excess of a 40-hour workweek. Beginning in the 1960s, Congress enacted laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of protected categories such as race, gender, religion, disability, age, and national origin; a statute protecting occupational health and safety; whistleblower protections in particular areas; and a measure regulating retirement and welfare benefit plans. Washington state passed similar employment law protections over the years aimed at keeping a fair and proper workplace. Washington has wage and hour laws, right to work laws, whistleblower laws, and civil rights laws. These, combined with others, create Washington employment law.
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