Do workers have the right to form a labor union?

Unions are beneficial to New York City workers in that they provide them with the opportunity to negotiate contracts and terms of employment as a group. However, many workers are completely unaware that they have the right to form a labor union and, because of that, will not be granted the many employee benefits that go along with unionizing. It is important to understand the basics of having a right to unionize and what activities are covered.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives workers the right to band together to get better wages, working conditions and more. They do not necessarily need to join a union to negotiate. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) oversees these issues for most workers. If there is no union, employees are within their rights to unionize. The have the right to do the following: form or try to form a union; join the union even if the employer does not recognize its existence; help a union in organizing employees; refuse to take part in union activities; and retain the right to receive fair representation from the union.

The NLRA grants certain rights to those who are not in a union. Workers are allowed, through the NLRB, to take part in concerted activity with two or more employees acting for mutual benefit or to protect terms of employment. A worker who is functioning as an individual but is working on the authority of other employees is also allowed to engage in concerted activity. Concerted activities can include approaching the employer regarding better pay; two or more employees discussing safety issues, pay and other work issues with one another; and an employee discussing workplace conditions on behalf of other employees.

The NLRA covers federal, state and local government workers; people who are agricultural labor; people who work as domestics at a person's home or for a family; those employed by parents or a spouse; independent contractors; supervisors; railroad workers and airline workers covered under the Railway Labor Act; and those employed by a person who is not defined as an employer under NLRA. Unionizing or taking part in union-based activities can help workers to get what they feel they are entitled to in terms of pay and benefits. Having legal help that is experienced in unions and labor relations is vital to understand and take advantage of all the potential benefits of a union and for representation after the union has been formed.

Source: aflcio.org, "Your Rights to Unionize," accessed on May 15, 2018

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