In recent decades, union activity has decreased. While certain workers, like teachers, have been unionized for decades, a large swath of American workers has gone on un-unionized for generations. And even some trades that were once heavily involved in unions are no longer active. At least some of the lack of labor activity in our country has come from workers fearing for their jobs if they choose to engage in labor activity. And it is true: there are some unscrupulous employers out there who may very well retaliate against you for standing up for your rights. But there are laws in place to protect you from that retaliation, and that give you a way to seek compensation if your employer does retaliate against you.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
The most important law for anyone engaged in union activity to be aware of is the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA. This federal law dates back to 1935, and it was enacted to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to decreased employer practices that hurt the general welfare of workers, businesses, and the economy. The NLRA specifically covers private companies. If an employer is covered, its employees have the rights to:
- Organize a union;
- Bargain collectively through a representative; and
- Engage in strikes, picketing, and other concerted activities for mutual aid and protection.
The NLRA says that it is illegal for an employer to interfere with those three rights, and that it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for exercising any of those rights. Most of these cases are not handled in a traditional court, at least initially. Instead, they are litigated in front of the National Labor Relations Board, an agency that specifically deals with cases under the NLRA.
Exclusions Under the NLRA and the Railway Labor Act
There are three main groups of employees that are not governed by the NLRA. These are government workers, railway workers, and airline industry employees. Railway workers and airline industry employees are instead covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). While the NLRA allows for a wide variety of organization and collective bargaining activities, the RLA is much stricter about how negotiations occur between employers and employees, and how minor disputes are to be handled. There are also limitations on employees’ rights to strike if they have not fully exhausted all other options. Assuming the strike is lawfully done after a full exhaustion of other remedies, an employer cannot discharge an employee or eliminate his or her job for engaging in a strike. Claims under the RLA are litigated in federal court, and if an employee’s rights have been violated, the court can grant reinstatement, back pay, and/or other forms of equitable relief.
Call an Experienced Oregon Employment Lawyer
The right to organize is one of the most important rights of labor. Without brave men and women organizing throughout our history, all workers would be in a much worse position today. We here at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP have a deep respect for those who continue the labor cause. We have experience handling cases where employers have retaliated against employees for engaging in union activity, and if that happens to you we would like to talk to you to see if we can help. You can call us at (503) 398-1130 or you can reach us online.