Joining together with your co-workers to organize a union is a fundamental right recognized in U.S. labor law. It’s even affirmed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
That said, employers usually oppose working people’s efforts to organize because they would prefer to have all of the power in the employment relationship. Some employers regularly violate labor law when workers organize. Others will march right up to the edge of breaking the law to scare off organizing efforts. That’s why it’s important that you know your right to organize.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, you have the right to:
- Join a union.
- Talk to your co-workers about joining a union.
- Pass out literature about joining a union (in non-work areas during non-work times).
- Sign up your co-workers on petitions in non-work areas and during non-work times.
- Join with your co-workers for the purpose of forming a union.
- Join with your co-workers for the purpose of improving working conditions in your place of employment.
Also, under the National Labor Relations Act, your employer cannot:
- Interfere with, restrain or coerce you in such a way as to prevent you from exercising the rights listed above.
- Form a union that is financed or controlled by an employer, instead of by you and your co-workers.
- Discriminate against you or your co-workers in hiring and firing simply because you have chosen to join (or not to join) a union.
- Fire you because you have exercised any of your rights under the National Labor Relations Act, including your right to file complaints and testify against your employer if you believe he or she has violated your rights.
- Refuse to bargain collectively with you and your co-workers, if you choose to form a union.
It’s very important to note that the NLRA applies to most workers in the private sector, but not to everyone. Public-sector workers—like school employees, county social workers and firefighters—are covered by individual laws at the state level. Also some working people, such as independent contractors, supervisors and managers, are excluded from labor law coverage altogether.
In addition to the right to organize a union, you have other rights at work under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and various civil rights statutes.