What Is Labor Law?
A look at unions and collective bargaining
on February 10, 2020
Updated on April 5, 2022
If you are an employee at a large company, it can sometimes feel like you don't have enough bargaining power to negotiate benefits or pay increases. Labor law creates a system to even out these imbalances and allows employees to work together to improve their work environment. You might be considering joining a union or talking with your coworkers about changes you would like to see in your company. The law protects these actions.
The following overview gives you a look at unions and collective bargaining so that you can evaluate whether or not these are things you want to participate in. It can also give you a good starting point if you are considering speaking with a lawyer about your benefits or work environment.
Labor Law – What You Need To Know
- Labor law is focused on the relationship between employers and unions.
- State laws can vary depending on the jurisdiction, but the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) creates a national standard for union membership and collective bargaining.
- This act is enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has the power to enforce employees' rights to organize and their ability to be represented by a union.
- If you have a labor situation, an experienced labor law attorney can assist you with arbitration or other legal proceedings.
Overview of Labor Law
State and federal laws work together to equalize the bargaining power between employees and their employers. While employment law focuses on the relationship between employers and individual employees, labor law is focused on the relationship between employers and unions.
This area of law is regulated by state and federal government laws, state and federal court decisions, and administrative decisions. State laws can vary depending on the jurisdiction, but the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) creates a national standard for union membership and collective bargaining. Appropriately, this act is enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This federal agency has the power to enforce employees' rights to organize and their ability to be represented by a union.
Other agencies regulate various facets of this legal area. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces whistleblower protections. Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) safeguards against employment discrimination while the Department of Labor (DOL) a federal minimum wage standard. State laws also have their own minimum wage and overtime pay standards, so it is best to consult with an attorney with significant experience in and around your geographical location.
Labor unions are workers' organizations that aim to protect their interests and improve working conditions. Most professions have a union with members who work in the same field. In general, your employer can persuade you not to join a union. Still, it is unlawful for your employer to prevent you from unionizing through threats or other coercion.
Union members can elect officers of their local unions who make decisions on behalf of union members. Union costs are paid for by monthly dues, and union members may see several benefits from their membership—including an arbitration process that essentially protects workers from dismissal without cause, even where other employees are at will.
Collective bargaining is when a collective group of employees negotiate or communicate with an employer on behalf of individual workers. This group can be union members or simply a group of employees who have agreed to represent their coworkers. This process allows employees to negotiate the conditions of employment, including pay, workplace safety standards, and employee benefits. The NLRA protects the right to collective bargaining, and workers do not need to belong to a union to benefit from this.
If collective bargaining is successful, employers and employees enter into a collective bargaining agreement. If negotiations are unsuccessful, the issue may go to more formal arbitration, or the employees might strike. If employees do strike, employers are not legally allowed to fire the employees, but they might be able to hire replacements in some circumstances.
Common Questions to Ask a Labor Attorney
Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.
- Can my boss punish me for joining a union?
- What does a union do?
- Am I required to join a union to be protected by labor and employment laws?
- Can I get fired for striking?
- Can job applicants be dismissed for union ties?
- What health care or financial benefits am I afforded with union status?
- How do I report race, sexual orientation, or age discrimination to my union representative?
Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs
It is crucial to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices labor law.
Should I Talk to a Lawyer?
A lawyer can assist you in negotiations with your employer, and they can represent you if you suffer repercussions for joining a union or participating in collective bargaining actions. If you and your coworkers have decided to strike, a lawyer can help negotiate your demands to help you get back to work. If you have a labor situation, you need to take to arbitration or other legal proceedings. A lawyer can help you obtain documentation and interview potential witnesses.
A lawyer is versed in the rights of employees. They will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them, tracking deadlines and filing paperwork with the necessary courts and state and federal agencies—giving you one less thing to worry about. Consider scheduling free consultations with any number of immigration law firms in your area right away.
Why Super Lawyers?
Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The patented selection process includes independent research, peer nominations, and peer evaluations. The objective is to create a credible, comprehensive, and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel.
As Super Lawyers is intended to be used to select a lawyer, we limit the lawyer ratings to those who can be hired and retained by the public. You can learn more about the selection process here.