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Organize A Union

As you are probably aware, most working men and women in this country have the right to form and join labor unions to better their working conditions, increase their wages, and help gain job security. This section provides a brief overview of your rights as employees, and also provides some useful links where you may receive additional information if you are interested in organizing a union.

Why do people join labor unions? First of all, there is strength in numbers. By joining together, workers can achieve important protections, and improved working conditions that may be difficult, if not impossible, for an individual employee to obtain acting on his or her own. Unions help employees to obtain improved wages and health benefits, assure compliance with wage and hour laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), workplace safety laws, such as OSHA, and can help protect employees against unfair firing, suspensions, or other disciplinary actions. The right to form and join labor unions is protected by a variety of federal and state laws, as well as the United States Constitution.

Private sector employees are those persons employed by private companies and organizations, as opposed to those who are employed by the federal, state or local government. For workers employed in the private sector, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects your right to form and join labor unions, to assist a union in organizing the employees of a work place, and to go on strike to secure improved wages and working conditions. The NLRA also prohibits employers from interfering with these rights. For example, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee due to his or her involvement in a labor union, to threaten an employee with loss of job or benefits, or to threaten to close the plant or office if a union comes in.

Once a union has been recognized as the official bargaining representative of the employees at a company, store, or plant the labor union has the right to bargain with the employer over wages, benefits (pension, health insurance, vacation, etc.), and other working conditions. Such bargaining can result in a collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, which is an enforceable contract.

Public sector employees are those individuals working for federal, state or local governments, such as fire fighters, police officers, government white collar workers, and the like. A majority of states have state legislation which provide certain rights to state and local government employees to form and join labor unions. The rights provided by the numerous states vary greatly from state to state, with some states offering rights similar to those provided under the NLRA, while other states provide fewer rights.

In addition, public sector employees (federal, state, and local) have certain rights that are protected by the United States Constitution. As most people are aware, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to freedom of speech and association. These rights, which apply to public sector employees, work to protect your right to engage in union activities.

For example, you have a constitutionally protected right to form and join a labor union, even in states that do not allow public employee collective bargaining. This means that a public employer cannot fire you, or otherwise discriminate against you due to your membership in a labor union. In addition, as public employees, you have the right to engage in speech on matters of public concern including safety and budgetary issues that effect both you as an employee, and the public as well. These constitutional protections can be an important tool for organizing labor unions in the public sector, as well as tools that the unions can use to gain public support for their positions and concerns.

Federal employees have the right to form and join labor unions. This right is protected by the Federal Labor-Management Relations Act (FMLRA).

This Act was modeled after the NLRA discussed above and provides most federal sector employees with many of the same protections afforded employees in the private sector.

Indeed, unlike the private sector, federal agencies are prohibited from taking a position for or against a union during a union organizing campaign and election.

Although federal sector unions do not have the right to negotiate over wages or to strike, they do afford significant protections to employee rights through grievance procedures and binding arbitrations (forums that are available to non-unionized groups of employees in the federal sector.) In addition, federal sector unions negotiate over all areas regarding working conditions except wages and statutory pay benefits.

Lastly, federal unions lobby on Congress on behalf of their members for better pay, benefits and working conditions. The effectiveness of lobbing is largely guided by the strength of membership.

If you would like additional information on organizing a union, the following links may be useful:

Legal Representation for All Workers

When McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP decides to take your case, it is because we believe there is an unacceptable workplace violation that has negatively impacted you or resulted in your employer paying less than what the law requires and which we have a reasonable chance of remedying. We recognize that meritorious claims should not go unremedied because of the level of a person’s resources.

To ensure accessible and available legal representation for all our clients, MSE handles cases through different forms of fee arrangements, including contingency fees, hourly fees and fixed fees.

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