Labor Relations for a Healthy Workplace

Are you familiar with union practices in your industry? Do you know what employers are and are not allowed to do when your employees decided to organize? Most people do not take time to review labor standards and because of this, both organizations and employees can suffer. Both employers and employees must understand their rights in the workplace.

Confident female leader speaking at a diverse business meeting.

Labor organizations represent millions of United States workers. This dynamic and evolving field of regulatory and protective agencies change in response to rapid development across industries. The effects of changes are wide-reaching and will trickle down to even the smallest of companies.

What Exactly is Labor Relations?

Labor relations is defined as the relationship between an employer and a union or labor organization. Essentially, labor relations refer to the relationship between management and labor and includes the maintenance of any labor agreements.

The U.S. government has many agencies that handle labor. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is one of these agencies. It serves to protect the rights of private sector employees to join (with or without a union) to improve wages and working conditions. This agency enforces the National Labor Relations Act and enforces the prevention and remedy of unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers.

Aside from the NLRB, three other major federal agencies assist in labor relations:

The History of Labor Relations

During and after the Industrial Revolution in the United States, workers saw a need to organize to combat the growing trend of unfair pay and unsafe working conditions. Before 1935, only 10 percent of the U.S. workforce was unionized because there were no labor regulations in place that protected unionized laborers.

In 1933, a bill was submitted to Congress that would help prevent unfair labor practices on the part of employers. This bill passed and became known as the National Labor Relations Act. The passage of this law allowed workers across industries to unionize with the interest of protecting their rights.

As labor relations developed and grew with changing workforces, amendments were made to place restrictions on unions so that they could not manipulate or extort union members. This included free speech clauses and strike limitations.

In modern times, labor relations pertain to issues such as whether an individual should be considered an employee or a contractor. Similar non-traditional work situations are common areas of debate. Most recently, there is a focus on employee rights in non-unionized work environments. Many industries have restrictions on their ability to unionize and there is some debate over the protections that nonunionized workers are allowed to receive. This is a huge point of contention in labor relations now because only about 7 percent of the private sector is unionized.

National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 protects the rights of private sector employees and employers. The act was established to encourage collective bargaining and to monitor private sector labor and management practices that harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy in general.

The National Labor Relations Board, as mentioned earlier, is the agency in charge of enforcing the NLRA and is an independent government agency. They investigate allegations of wrongdoing brought forward by workers, unions, or employers and they resolve and decide the outcomes of such cases.

How Labor Relations Helps to Create Healthier Work Environments

There are several reasons why an increased focus on labor relations creates healthier work environments. One such aspect is collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining aims to establish an agreement between employers and employees/unions that will establish wages, work hours, promotions, benefits, safety procedures, insurance/benefits, etc. This can also mitigate disputes which can be costly and time-consuming. Conflicts can lead to employees missing work, project deadlines missed and lowering of employee retention. Therefore, collective bargaining is crucial to maintaining a productive workflow.

There are several collective bargaining terms to be aware of:

  • Bargaining in good faith – this includes being active in negotiations and being willing to accommodate the other party as well as establishing an authorized representative who will make decisions
  • Impasse – in the case of an impasse, the employer can implement the last terms and conditions agreed upon
  • Mediation – a neutral third party helps to facilitate negotiations and decision-making processes

The Employer Dos and Don’ts

If your employees decide to organize a union, keep the following acronyms in mind to remember what you can and cannot do during the organization process without violating the law.

TIPS will help you remember what you are prohibited by law from doing:

  • Threats – employers may not threaten employees who support unionizing
  • Interrogations – employers cannot ask employees whether they do or do not support unionization, how their co-workers feel about unionization, and who has or has not attended union meetings
  • Promises – employers may not make promises to make changes on the condition that unions will not form
  • Surveillance – employers may not spy on union activity

FOE will help you remember what you can say:

  • Facts – employers may share verifiable facts about the union and the union organization process
  • Opinions – employers may share their own opinions on unions and why they do not think unions are needed
  • Examples – examples of why a union is not needed can be shared with the organizing individuals which can include stories of union corruption and examples of employers positively negotiating directly with employees

Next Steps

Now that you understand more about labor relations and how following labor trends affect your work environment, it would be a good idea to engage your employees in conversations about labor relations as well. Employees need to understand how they are protected along with how their employers are protected by the National Relations Labor Act and the National Relations Labor Board. KnowledgeCity has an interactive online course that covers relevant federal laws and rights of employees, employers and unions. This training will help employees and employers understand what can and cannot be done in cases where organizing is desired on the part of the employees.

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