What's the Law?
I am not represented by a union
Your Rights during Union Organizing
You have the right to form, join or assist a union.
You have the right to organize a union to negotiate with your employer over your terms and conditions of employment. This includes your right to distribute union literature, wear union buttons t-shirts, or other insignia (except in unusual "special circumstances"), solicit coworkers to sign union authorization cards, and discuss the union with coworkers. Supervisors and managers cannot spy on you (or make it appear that they are doing so), coercively question you, threaten you or bribe you regarding your union activity or the union activities of your co-workers. You can't be fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way for engaging in these activities.
Working time is for work, so your employer may maintain and enforce non-discriminatory rules limiting solicitation and distribution, except that your employer cannot prohibit you from talking about or soliciting for a union during non-work time, such as before or after work or during break times; or from distributing union literature during non-work time, in non-work areas, such as parking lots or break rooms. Also, restrictions on your efforts to communicate with co-workers cannot be discriminatory. For example, your employer cannot prohibit you from talking about the union during working time if it permits you to talk about other non-work-related matters during working time.
Your Right to Form a Union
Not represented by a union, but want to be?
If a majority of workers wants to form a union, they can select a union in one of two ways: If at least 30% of workers sign cards or a petition saying they want a union, the NLRB will conduct an election. If a majority of those who vote choose the union, the NLRB will certify the union as your representative for collective bargaining. An election is not the only way a union can become your representative. Your employer may voluntarily recognize a union based on evidence - typically signed union-authorization cards - that a majority of employees want it to represent them. Once a union has been certified or recognized, the employer is required to bargain over your terms and conditions of employment with your union representative. Special rules apply in the construction industry.
Right to refrain
Federal law protects your right to decline to participate in union organizing or concerted activity, and to campaign against a union during an organizing campaign.
Strikes, Pickets and Protest
All employees - union or not - have the right to participate in a protected strike, picket or protest.
You have a right to strike, picket, and protest regarding work-related issues, but there are limitations and qualifications on the exercise of that right. Your right to engage in these activities depends on the object or purpose of the action, on its timing, or on the conduct of those involved. (For more about unprotected strikes, see the "I am represented by a union" and "union rights and responsibilities" sections of this app.) Violence or other serious misconduct, such as destruction of property, is not protected.
Federal law protects employees engaged in union activity, but that's only part of the story. Even if you're not represented by a union - even if you have zero interest in having a union - the National Labor Relations Act protects your right to band together with coworkers to improve your lives at work.
You have the right to act with coworkers to address work-related issues in many ways. Examples include: talking with one or more co-workers about your wages and benefits or other working conditions, circulating a petition asking for better hours, participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions, and joining with coworkers to talk directly to your employer, to a government agency, or to the media about problems in your workplace. Your employer cannot discharge, discipline, or threaten you for, or coercively question you about, this "protected concerted" activity. However, you can lose protection by saying things about your employer that are egregiously offensive or knowingly and maliciously false, or by publicly disparaging your employer's products or services without relating your complaints to any labor controversy.
Even if you are not represented by a union, federal law gives you the right to band together with coworkers to improve your lives at work - including joining together in cyberspace, such as on Facebook.
Using social media can be a form of "protected concerted" activity. You have the right to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions with coworkers on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media. But just individually griping about some aspect of work is not "concerted activity": what you say must have some relation to group action, or seek to initiate, induce, or prepare for group action, or bring a group complaint to the attention of management.
How to Enforce Your Rights
If you believe your rights or the rights of others have been violated, you should contact the National Labor Relations Board promptly to protect your rights, generally within six months of the unlawful activity. You may make inquiries of the NLRB without your employer or a union, or anyone else being informed of the inquiry. A charge against an employer or union must be filed to initiate an investigation; charges may be filed by any person and need not be filed by the employee directly affected by the violations. Employees should seek assistance from the nearest Regional NLRB office, which can be found by clicking "Contact NLRB" above. It is illegal for an employer or union to retaliate against employees for filing charges or participating in NLRB investigation or proceedings.
If the NLRB determines that your rights have been violated by an employer or a union, you may be awarded appropriate remedial relief. For example, if an employer has unlawfully fired an employee, the NLRB may order the employer to rehire the employee and to pay the employee lost wages and benefits. Likewise, if a union's unlawful conduct has caused an employee to lose a job, the NLRB may order the union to seek the employee's reinstatement and to make the employee whole financially. In all cases, the NLRB seeks to undo as much as possible the effects of whatever unlawful conduct has occurred, including by ordering the employer or union to stop violating the law and to post a remedial notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
I am represented by a union
In some industries, most jobs are filled through referrals from union hiring halls.
Employers in the construction and maritime industries often choose to hire exclusively through referrals from union hiring halls. Unions that operate exclusive hiring halls must notify workers how the referral system works (and of any changes in that system) and maintain non-discriminatory standards and procedures in making job referrals from the hiring hall. You don't have to be a union member to use a hiring hall and a union may not discriminate in making referrals based on whether or not you are a union member. It may, however, charge nonmembers a reasonable fee to use the hiring hall's services.
The amount of dues collected from employees represented by unions is subject to federal and state laws and court rulings. The NLRA allows unions and employers to enter into union-security agreements which require the payment of dues or dues equivalents as a condition of employment.
Federal law allows unions and employers to enter into "union-security" agreements which require all employees in a bargaining unit to become union members and begin paying union dues and fees within 30 days of being hired. Employees may choose not to become union members and pay dues, or opt to pay only that share of dues used directly for representation, such as collective bargaining and contract administration. Known as objectors, they are no longer union members, but are still protected by the contract. Unions are obligated to tell all covered employees about this option, which was created by a Supreme Court ruling and is known as the Beck right.
If you work in a state that bans union-security agreements, (27 states), each employee at a workplace must decide whether or not to join the union and pay dues, even though all workers are protected by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union. The union is still required to represent all workers.
You may object to union membership on religious grounds, but in that case, you must pay an amount equal to dues to a nonreligious charitable organization.
Right to fair representation
You have a right to be represented by your union fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination.
Your union has the duty to represent all employees - whether members of the union or not-fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination. This duty applies to virtually every action that a union may take in dealing with an employer as your representative, including collective bargaining, handling grievances, and operating exclusive hiring halls. For example, a union which represents you cannot refuse to process a grievance because you have criticized union officials or because you are not a member of the union. But the duty does not ordinarily apply to rights a worker can enforce independently - such as filing a workers' compensation claim - or to internal union affairs - such as the union's right to discipline members for violating its own rules.