[authors: William K. Kennedy II, Claire A.P. McLamore]
The National Labor Relations Board has launched a website designed to educate both unionized and non-unionized workers about their right to act together for their mutual aid and protection.
Announced earlier this spring, the new website was launched on June 18, 2012. To illustrate the power of the protections in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, the site features more than a dozen recent cases from across the United States. The selected cases were resolved at various stages—from early settlements soon after charges were filed to fully litigated cases that were decided by the Board or appealed to the federal circuit courts.
The NLRB says it selected the cases because they represent a variety of situations, including:
A construction crew fired after refusing to work in the rain near exposed electrical wires
A customer service representative who lost her job after discussing her wages with a coworker
An engineer at a vegetable packing plant fired after reporting safety concerns affecting other employees
A paramedic fired after posting work-related grievances on Facebook
Poultry workers fired after discussing their grievances with a newspaper reporter
In each of the cases, employees lodged complaints and later prevailed, either by winning reinstatement to their jobs or monetary awards, or by securing settlements.
Section 7 of the NLRA provides: “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 and all such activities.”
NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce has stated that Section 7 “only has value when people know it exists,” and that the “right to engage in protected concerted activity is one of the best kept secrets of the National Labor Relations Act.”
Whether the new website will change the way employees view and value participation in unions remains to be seen, but commentators agree that with such increased awareness of the right to bring a complaint against an employer, regardless of one’s union membership, the number of complaints filed is likely to rise.
Employers should take this opportunity to review their employee handbooks and employment policies to ensure compliance with the NLRA and the NLRB’s jurisprudence. Employers should also consider training managers about permissible and prohibited conduct under the NLRA. Finally, employers should consider conducting their own education programs, including reminding employees of internal complaint procedures available to them.
Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment Group routinely assists employers in NLRB compliance and training. If you have questions or concerns regarding these developments, please contact William K. Kennedy II at 215.864.8243 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Claire A.P. McLamore at 410.528.5516 or email@example.com, or the member of Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment Group with whom you work.