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Can I be fired for attempting to unionize?

Jefferson, GA |

If I hand out union ballots or attempt to unionize my current employer can they fire me? Previous attempts have resulted in termination of employees attempt to bring in the union.

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Attorney answers 4


You should speak to a labor attorney immediately. Attempts to organize are, generally speaking, protected. I've attached a fact sheet that provides a great deal of information.

Joshua Erlich is an attorney in Arlington, Virginia. His response to your question is general in nature, as not all the facts are known to him. You should retain an experienced attorney to review all the facts in your case in order to receive advice specific to your case. Mr. Erlich's statement above does not create an attorney/client relationship.


No, you cannot be fired for union organizing. Yes you can be fired as an at-will employee for any reason or no reason, provided it is not an illegal reason or violates public policy. That said, they will be able to fire you provided they can show it wasn't for union organizing. You may eventually be able to sue and show you were fired illegally after considerable time and money. You really should consult a local labor/employment attorney. You can find one here on Avvo or by calling the local bar association for a referral.
Best of luck.

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Assuring employees have the right to organize (right to collective bargaining) is the fundamental purpose of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in the private sector. The labor relations laws in the public sector are the same or similar. The NLRA states in its preamble:

"It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection."

The full preamble to the NLRA is a strong statement of why unions are important. You can read the entire statute here:

The NLRA makes it an unfair labor practice to restrict the rights of employees to form unions:

Sec. 7: "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, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 8(a)(3) [section 158(a)(3) of this title]." (NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 157)

Sec. 8. [Unfair labor practices by employer] "It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer--
(1) to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7 [section 157 of this title]" (NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 158(a))

Only employees of the employer can organize into unions. Whether contract workers meet the definition of "employee" depends on many factors which are too detailed to go into here on Avvo.

Employers can reasonably restrict the use of their property and workplace. It may be reasonable to prohibit employees from using the employer's computers, e-mail system, server, etc. during work hours for non-work purpose, and it may be legal to prohibit employees from engaging in non-work activities while on the clock. However, if the employer allows employees to use its property or employee work time for other non-work reasons, such as exchanging recipes or jokes, selling Girl Scout cookies, social interactions and more, then the employer must allow employees the same use for organizing. Otherwise, the employer is discriminating against employees trying to organize, which is exactly what the NLRA prohibits.

During rest and meal breaks, employees are permitted to communicate about anything they want. If the employer ignores break time communication except about organizing, it is violating the NLRA. And it would be a violation of California's wage and hour laws to prohibit employees from using their break time however they want, with very few exceptions.

I suggest you look at the web page of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB enforces the NLRA. There is a lot of very helpful information on the site:

The AFL-CIO is a great source, too, and offers practical guidance:

Also, contact the closest Labor Council office which can connect you to a union in your industry with which you can go over details.

You can also meet with one or more union attorneys to learn and discuss your rights, and strategy for organizing.

@MikaSpencer * * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and must not be taken as legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts which are impossible to gather on a public web site like Avvo. * * * No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. * * *


Firing suspected organizers is, sadly, one of the most frequently used union avoidance tools of unscupulous management. It is also almost always illegal, depending on whether you have a public (i.e., government) or private employer. Make sure you do not hand out union information when you are supposed to be working. Count on the fact that one of your co-workers will tell management what you are doing in a parsec. Organizing a union always involves the risk of an illegal termination followed by a long litigation process to get the organizer reinstated. As Frederick Douglass once said, we cannot expect the rain to fall on our fields without thunder and lightening.
I have been representing labor organizations and individual workers for more than 30 years. Feel free to call me at (404) 979-3150. Good luck!

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