Using the National Labor Relations Act to protect non-union workers

By Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, NWJP's Deputy Director
Photographer unknown

We all know that unions are the backbone of the American middle class and that workers who do not enjoy a unionized workplace often suffer more abuses, get paid less, and have fewer protections.

Even where they don’t have a union, workers can take action together to improve their working situations, and those actions are usually protected. At NWJP, we have recently seen each of the following situations serve as a catalyst for groups of clients to band together and demand changes in their workplace:

  • A verbally abusive supervisor;
  • Relocation of the work site, which led to a longer commute and a longer work day for the same money;
  • An aggressive co-worker;
  • An unfair tip pool;

Whether or not other laws protect workers regarding these issues, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives most employees the right to “engage in…concerted activities” for their “mutual aid or protection.” For example, to complain about that supervisor, employees are protected when they get together to schedule and attend a meeting with the general manager. They are also protected when they engage in a group work stoppage to demand a raise to help offset the loss of time commuting to the new warehouse.  They are protected when they gather signatures on a letter to the boss regarding the aggressive co-worker. And, they are protected when they meet outside of the workplace with other servers to talk about the way tips are distributed and how to approach the owners about the problems.

In each of these cases, our clients were fired for engaging in the protected activity. To support them, we filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In all of the cases, the NLRB engaged in immediate and extensive investigations into potential violations. NLRB remedies are limited to cease-and-desist orders, notice postings, and reinstatement and back pay if the worker has legal immigration status. However, the process allows for a relatively rapid venue to address attempts to repress organizing efforts and to negotiate a favorable settlement of these and other employment law claims.

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