Many states have at-will employment laws that enable you and your employer to terminate your working relationship at any time. Laws in many states do not protect your right to create a union, which means that your employer could fire you without violating state labor laws. However, employers in the United States are subject to federal and state laws that protect your right to unionize.
National Labor Relations Act
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, and among other things, this act protects your right to form a union or to join an existing union. Your employer cannot prevent you from reading union literature or stop you from recruiting co-workers to join a union as long as you conduct these activities outside your work hours or during breaks. You also have the right to sign petitions demanding changes in your wages, working conditions or work schedule. However, the law only protects the rights of ordinary workers to unionize as opposed to supervisors and managers.
Under federal law, your employer may not fire you, or threaten to fire you, because you join a union or get involved in union activities. Your employer may not question you about your involvement in a union, nor offer you incentives if you promise to disassociate yourself from a union. An employer violates federal law if he threatens to close down your workplace or lay off workers in response to unionization. Additionally, your employer cannot assign you extra duties or transfer you to another location in response to your union activities.
If you successfully create a union in an at-will state, then you must enter into a collective bargaining agreement with your employer. The agreement provides union members with employment rights not afforded to them under basic state law. Typically, these agreements limit the ability of an employer to fire you, demote you or transfer you, unless certain conditions are met. Federal law prevents employers in all states from firing you as a result of certain types of discrimination such as racism or sexism but in most other instances your employer can fire you for any reason. Collective bargaining agreements make the termination process more difficult for employers, and if the union disputes your firing, then you may have the right to compensation or reinstatement in your job.
While federal law makes it illegal for employers to fire you for attempting to unionize, some companies have terminated employees in these situations. A company that violates this law could face fines. However, if a firm fires several employees for unionizing, surviving employees may feel too intimidated to press ahead with creating a union. In the long run, paying upfront fines could save the firm money when compared with the cost of paying a unionized labor force. Therefore, even if there is a penalty involved for such firings, companies have still been known to take such action.