There are federal protections for private sector workers seeking to organize. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act states that, "Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection . . ." Workers often find this law on a partially-obstructed or hidden poster in the break room.
Below is an excerpt from the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that oversees and adjudicates private sector unions:
The law we enforce gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union. If employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity, the National Labor Relations Board will fight to restore what was unlawfully taken away.
Whether or not concerted activity is protected depends on the facts of the case. If you have questions, please contact an Information Officer at your nearest NLRB Regional Office, which you can find on this page or by calling 1-866-667-NLRB.
The Information Officer will focus on three questions:
Is the activity concerted?
Generally, this requires two or more employees acting together to improve wages or working conditions, but the action of a single employee may be considered concerted if he or she involves co-workers before acting, or acts on behalf of others.
Does it seek to benefit other employees?
Will the improvements sought – whether in pay, hours, safety, workload, or other terms of employment – benefit more than just the employee taking action? Or is the action more along the lines of a personal gripe, which is not protected?
Is it carried out in a way that causes it to lose protection?
Reckless or malicious behavior, such as sabotaging equipment, threatening violence, spreading lies about a product, or revealing trade secrets, may cause concerted activity to lose its protection.
Bottom line: Organizing with your co-workers builds power and also triggers protections under federal law (if the workplace is private sector). Public sector workplaces have their own statutory protections - or lack thereof - under state law.
Feel free to read more about your right to organize a union here.
*Disclaimer: The information provided on this page does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this page are for general informational purposes only.