Valerie has been working in a telecommunications company for 15 years. But all of a sudden, she lost her job for joining a union in her workplace. On the other hand, Dan cannot go to work because protesting employees have blocked the entrance.

What’s their common denominator? Unfair labor practices. How should a person deal with this?

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) on 5 July 1935 to protect the rights of both employees and employers, promote cultivate bargaining, and curtail some private sector labor and management practices. Sometimes referred to as the Wagner Act, it also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), as well as the General Counsel responsible for investigating and prosecuting unfair labor practice cases. Appointed by the President, it has a four-year term and an independent from the Board. NLRB has 26 regional offices across the United States, handling union elections and charges of unfair practices on a local level.

Under this legislation, workers have the right to create a new union, join an existing labor union, or denounce a union which no longer serves their needs and rights. All union and nonunion workers have the right to gather or with their employes to talk over salary, workplace conditions, and safety issues.

Most private employees are covered by this law except agricultural laborers, domestic help, federal/state/local government employees, independent contractors, managers and supervisors, and railroad or airline employees.

The Act has set five broad categories of unfair labor practices of a firm’s management:

  • Discrimination – Employers cannot discriminate against a worker who is a union member or joins a union, as well as fire employees that stage a rally against unfair labor practices.
  • Domination – Firms are prohibited from dominating or intruding with the creation of a labor union, establishing a sham union, funding a prevailing workplace union.
  • Interference – Companies cannot meddle with a worker’s right to be part of a union, talk about workplace issues with fellow employees, or participate in collective bargaining.
  • Retaliation – Corporations are not allowed to retaliate against an employee for joining a union or filing charges because of such unfair practices.
  • Refusal to Bargain – Employers must not refuse good-faith collective bargaining with a union.

In the same token, labor unions are prohibited from doing the following:

  • Asking an employer to pay for any unfulfilled work
  • Charging undue membership fees
  • Coercing or threatening workers who do not want to join the union
  • Refusing to partake in good-faith collective bargaining with a corporation
  • Refusing to recognize an employee representative
  • Staging an illegal strike
  • Working with an employer to sanction anti-union employees

If an employer or a labor union has breached your rights under this Act, you may file a case at a NLRB local office. In case the federal agency finds there is enough evidence, the NLRB representative will endeavor to mediate between the employer or union and the employee. But if both parties cannot reach a settlement, the case will go to an NLRB judge to decide on the matter. Labor-related charges must be submitted within six months of the incident. Only the agency can enforce such cases, not a private lawsuit. Although the board has no powers to assess penalties to an employer or union, it can order back pay or lost wages to be given to the worker, or reinstate employment.