A non-unionized workplace is simply a workplace in which workers do not have a collective bargaining agreement in place with management governing the terms and conditions of their employment. Management in these workplaces generally has more leeway in hiring, firing and otherwise disciplining the workforce. A union agreement typically imposes a series of requirements and a set procedure in place before a worker can be let go.
Fair Labor Standards Act
The primary federal law that governs management's relationships with workers is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Originally passed in 1938, the FLSA established federal standards for a minimum hourly wage and requires employers to pay overtime pay for certain workers. Unions and individual employees are free to negotiate more favorable terms from employees, but workers in non-unionized workplaces in the United States are still entitled to the benefits and guarantees of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The National Labor Relations Act
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 in an attempt to curtail strikes, slowdowns and other work stoppages that were seen as detrimental to the U.S. economy. The law also prohibited employers from union-busting or otherwise disrupting the right of workers to form collective bargaining units. Employers, therefore, generally cannot take unfair steps to prohibit workers from forming unions. The act does not cover federal, state or local government workers, however, nor does it cover agricultural workers, domestics, those employed by parents or spouses or independent contractors.
Some states have passed so-called "right to work" laws, which prohibit unions from forming agreements with employers to condition employment on becoming union members or paying union dues. In these areas, unions have less bargaining power, compared to management.
Consequences and Considerations
Workers typically have fewer rights in non-unionized workplaces, while the business owners who operate these workplaces typically enjoy much greater freedom of action. Wages in non-unionized workplaces tend to be lower than those in union shops for comparable workers. But a globalizing economy has resulted in increased competitive pressures that may make it more difficult for unions to strike favorable bargains in the future.