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It’s important that employees ask questions so that they get straight answers and make informed decisions about whether they want to be union members. Here are several of the questions that we are hearing. We encourage you to send us any questions you have beyond this list, and we will work to get you an answer as quickly as possible.
Q1: What is the basic federal law that deals with the rights of employees who may be interested in representation by a union?
A1: It is called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA was passed in 1935.
Q2: Who administers this law?
A2: It is administered by a federal administrative agency headed by a five-person board called the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Board members are appointed by the President of the United States, subject to approval by the U.S. Senate, for a five-year term. Due to the Presidential appointment, the various members of the Board have a rather definite political leaning which may be either pro-union or pro-management, depending upon which President appointed them.
Q3: How can the employer determine who is eligible to vote?
A3: The NRLB will determine who would be eligible to vote in an “appropriate bargaining unit.” The NRLB guidelines hold that a group of employees with a separate “community of interest,” something that ties them together such as a job, education or skill requirement can be an appropriate unit. Therefore an employer can be fragmented with a number of appropriate units represented by a number of unions.
Q4: Are most workers in the U.S. members of a union?
A4:No. In 2013, the union membership rate — the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions — was 11.3%. And, when you exclude government employees, only 6.7% of private sector employees are union members.
Q5: Who are supervisors under the NRLB rules?
A5: Any person who has the authority to hire, fire, promote, discipline, grant time off, grant raises or recommend any or all of such actions can be considered by the Board to be a supervisor.
Q6: What is a union?
A6: A union, under the law, is a group of employees who band together to deal with or “negotiate” with their employer about wages, hours and working conditions, whether formally called or designated as a “union” or not; whether they have at that point filed with the U.S. Department of Labor as a union or not; or whether they are called a union, association, committee or any designation. The group must choose, designate or elect their own representatives (they cannot be management appointees). The “organization” cannot be sponsored by or supported monetarily or otherwise by the employer.
Q7: What is an open shop and a union shop?
A7: An open shop provision in a labor agreement in essence states that an employee is free to decide for him/herself whether he/she wishes to be a union member or not and it is not required to retain his/her job. A union shop clause provides that after 30 days (usually) all employees must join the union and pay dues and initiation fees in order to retain their job. Sometimes people use the term “closed shop” when they really mean “union shop.” The “closed shop” (which required union membership before you were employed by the employer) was declared illegal in 1947 when the Taft-Hartley Act was passed.
Q8: What is a representation petition, and who files?
A8: An employee, a group of employees or any individual or union acting on their behalf, or an employer can file a representation petition with the NRLB. Such a petition, except when filed by an employer, must be accompanied by sufficient “authorization cards” to demonstrate that 30% or more of the eligible voters in an appropriate bargaining unit authorize the union to represent them for purposes of collective bargaining.
Q9: Since a union has nothing to begin with in their initial relationship with the employer, they can obviously make all kinds of statements (factual or otherwise) to employees. What is the employer able to communicate?
A9: Due to the fact that the employer can create change (example: increase pay, etc.), the legal restrictions on the employer in this area are far stricter than on a union. The general rule from the employer’s viewpoint is that everything remains “status quo” until the election is over and certified by the NRLB. The employer can communicate what has been accomplished up to this time without a union and without employees paying any union dues. The employer can communicate how it feels about this union and why. The employer is free to express its opinions about union-related questions (assuming no implied threats), and is free to expose any factual information about the union or unions in general so long as it is truthful.
Q10: Can an employer give a raise or improve benefits during a unionizing campaign?
A10: Yes, but only if they were part of an ongoing practice which is historically documented; had been approved (by the appropriate management level) prior to the time the employer became aware of a unionizing campaign; had been previously scheduled (and documented or announced) to go into effect on that particular date; are the result of the application of a “merit” rating system in effect; or result from an automatic seniority application (increased vacation eligibility) covered in writing by a policy, handbook or documented past practice.
Q11: Can an employer transfer a “troublesome” employee during a campaign to another shift or job?
A11: Yes, but not because of his/her union activity. A transfer must be for appropriate business reasons. It will be looked at closely by the Board if a charge is filed.
Q12: What is “good faith” bargaining?
A12: The NRLA and NRLB laws require that an employer and a union certified or recognized to represent the employer’s employees must meet at reasonable times; to confer in good faith about wages, hours and working conditions; and put into writing any agreement reached if requested by either party. Both parties must negotiate with an open mind to try to reach an agreement. While each party must give due consideration to the proposals of the other side, there is no requirement that any particular item must be agreed to by either party or that there must be any particular amount or kind of concessions. Hard bargaining by both sides is permitted under the law.
Q13: What is an unfair labor practice charge?
A13: It is a written allegation that either a union or an employer has violated the NLRAwhich is formally filed in writing with the NRLB. It is only an allegation until an investigation takes place, a complaint issued, a hearing is held and a decision is made.
Q14: Where can I send my questions to FCi Federal if they are not addressed on this list?
A14: You can send an email to your HR manager or to email@example.com.