The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is the main federal law that governs relations between unions and employers. An independent federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board, was created to oversee the NLRA, which was intended to help curtail strikes and other forms of labor unrest. Among the rights this law guarantees are employees' rights to organize and to bargain as a group with their nongovernment employers.

Workers' rights under the NLRA

The NLRA establishes employees' rights to organize themselves into unions. Workers can form unions, or they can join, picket, go on strike with, or otherwise help existing labor groups. They can also bargain as a unit with employers. Employees also have the right to decline to participate in these activities, except for the case of jobs where union membership is a requirement for employment. The NLRA also protects workers from unfair activity by labor unions. Unions may not coerce employees into joining, or into participating in strikes, for instance.

It is illegal for an employer to interfere with, control, or financially support any labor organization. Employers must allow competing unions equal access to their workforce. Employers cannot refuse to negotiate with union representatives.

Who might be a victim of unfair labor practices

Examples of employer violations include the following:

  • Making threats to employees about possible loss of benefits or employment if they join or vote for a union.
  • Threatening to close the business if employees vote for a union.
  • Promising benefits to employees if they vote against unionizing.

Violations may also be committed by labor organizations. Possible union violations include labor officials threatening employees with job loss if they don't support the union's activities.

How to take action against unfair labor practices

If you believe you are a victim of unfair labor practices, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recommends contacting an information officer at the regional NLRB office nearest you. The officer can help you file an unfair labor practices charge. Charges must be filed within 6 months of the alleged violation of the NLRA.

If you want to form or end a union

Workers seeking to form or decertify (end) a union must file a petition with the NLRB regional office that has jurisdiction over their workplace. An information officer at the regional office can answer questions about how to complete petition forms. Generally, you will need the dated signatures of 30 percent of the affected employees to form or decertify a union to demonstrate support for the petition.

Additional resources:

Text of the NLRA

National Labor Relations Board

NLRB regional office locator

Related Legal Guides:

Labor Law

Wrongful Termination Law