A common misconception among non-union Employers is that they do not have to worry about or pay attention to the federal law known as the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). This perception-that the NLRA only governs union-management interaction-is inaccurate, since the NLRA covers “Employers” engaged in interstate commerce, regardless of whether they are unionized, or the subject of a union organizing campaign.
More importantly, the NLRA protects employees-even employees who are not unionized-when the employees engage in “protected, concerted activity.” A simple definition of protected, concerted activity would be when two or more employees act together to improve their wages, hours or other terms and conditions of employment. The conduct of one employee can also be deemed both “protected” and “concerted” when the employee is acting on the authority of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action.
The fact that non-union employees have rights under and are protected by the National Labor Relations Act will gain additional traction in the coming weeks and months. In late 2010, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), the federal agency responsible for enforcing the NLRA, issued a rule requiring employers to post notices informing employees of their rights under the NLRA. Despite a prolonged comment period, and litigation seeking to derail this rule, the rule is now set to go into effect on Monday April 30, 2012.
What does this new rule require? A summary of the more significant requirements is set forth below. All requirements, as well as the poster itself, can be found on the NLRB’s website.
1. All Employers “subject to the NLRA” are required to post this notice. Generally, the NLRB asserts jurisdiction over any Employer in the retail industry that has a gross annual volume of business of more than $500,000. With non-retail companies, the NLRB will exercise jurisdiction if the amount of goods sold or services provided out of state, or the amount of goods or services purchased from out of state, exceeds $50,000.
2. The Notice to be posted must be at least 11 x 17, and must be placed in conspicuous places where notices to employees concerning personnel rules or policies are customarily posted.
3. The Notice can be printed in English, but if 20% or more of the workforce does not speak English, the Notice must also be posted in the language spoken by those employees.
4. The Notice must also be posted electronically, on a company internet or intranet site, if the company customarily communicates with its employees regarding personnel rules and policies in that manner. The same rule for non-English speaking employees applies to electronic postings as well.
5. The Notice must inform employees of their rights under the NLRA. The rule describes this as including:
a. The right to organize a union to negotiate with the employer regarding wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment
b. Form, join or assist a union
c. Bargain collectively through a chosen representative
d. Discuss wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment, or union organizing, with co-employees
e. Take action with one or more co-workers to improve wages, hours or working conditions
f. Strike and picket
g. Choose not to engage in any of these activities
6. The Notice must also inform employees about conduct taken by an Employer that would be deemed illegal, including:
a. Prohibiting employees from talking about or soliciting on behalf of a union during non-work time
b. Prohibiting employees from distributing union literature during non-work time, in non-work areas
c. Questioning employees about union support or activities in a manner that discourages employees from engaging in that activity
d. Take adverse action against an employee who joins or supports a union, engages in protected, concerted activity, or chooses not to join a union
e. Threaten to close a workplace if the employees join a union
f. Promise benefits or pay to encourage or discourage union support
g. Spy on or videotape peaceful union activities
This new rule has the potential to be a game-changer, in many respects. It was promulgated, according to the NLRB, due to a perception that employees, union and non-union alike, where unaware of their rights. In the non-union setting, this new rule may spark union organizational activity, particularly in geographic areas and workplace settings where it had been quiet or dormant in recent years. More importantly, it will provide likely invigorate non-union employees to take a more active role, both directly with their colleagues, and more openly on social media sites, opposing Employer rules, requirements and policies, including policies relating to compensation and benefits.
- Chris D’Angelo