Unfair labor practices are actions taken by employers or unions that violate workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA. The NLRA is the main federal labor law regulating private sector union and employer relations. It gives private sector employees the right to form or join a union, strike for better wages, and participate in or refrain from union activities. Violations of the NRLA are investigated by the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB.
The National Labor Relations Act, formerly the Wagner Act, is a U.S. federal law enacted in 1935. This act came into effect during the economic decline and high unemployment rate faced during the Great Depression. Government policies toward labor organizations were significantly changed. In addition to giving workers the choice of being represented by a union, better standard procedures were developed as well as improved personnel training. The NLRA has been described as the policy that “eliminates the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining by...workers.”
The significance of labor practices is to ensure the safety and rights of employees defined in Section 7 of the NLRA. It’s important to know that not every unfair act is considered to be an unfair labor practice. For example, if an employer violates a bargaining agreement, but doesn’t violate the contract, it’s considered an unfair labor act but not an unfair labor practice. Allegations of unfair labor practices are reported to the NLRB, where they are investigated and further legal action is determined.
As stated in Section 8 of the NLRA, “to interfere, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed in Section 7, to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to discriminate in regard to hire or tenure of employment or discourage membership in any labor organization, to discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee because he has filed charges or given testimony under this Act, or to refuse to bargain collectively with representatives of his employees” all represent types of unfair labor practices.
Charges of unfair labor practices must be filed and served within six months of the alleged violation. The General Counsel of the NLRB investigates the charges and if they are proved to be valid, a complaint is issued. If the charges are not supported, they are dismissed by the Regional Director. Dismissed charges may be appealed to the General Counsel to be resolved by a formal settlement through the board or Court of Appeals. Grievances may also be settled through an arbitration procedure.
Employees need to be aware that unfair labor practices of certain types of employees aren’t covered under the NLRA. Agricultural laborers, domestic workers, supervisors, independent contractors, employees of the federal, state, or local governments, and employees under the Railway Labor Act are excluded from the NLRA. Employees in these sectors should contact the Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or Federal Labor Relations Authority in regard to employment practices believed to be unlawful.