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Broken Labor Law

How is it that so few American workers have a union? The inadequacies of U.S. labor law extinguish or delay organizing campaigns and do little to discourage the firing, harassment and discrimination against workers for exercising their legal rights to form a union and collectively bargain.

Many employers find the weak penalties for breaking the law a bargain if firing a pro-union employee scares others from supporting the union. If workers do successfully form a union despite such tactics, the employer is allowed to repeatedly appeal the results, which can take years.

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  1. Lowering the Bar or Setting the Standard?

    Deutsche Telekom’s U.S. Labor Practices

    The failure of U.S. labor law to protect America’s workers from pervasive unionbusting is well-documented. Yet little attention has been paid to the practice of foreign companies operating in cooperation with their employees in their home countries, where labor laws are stronger, while failing to respect the rights of their workers in the United States. The same company, under two different systems of law, results in two very different situations for workers.

    In a new report, the American Rights at Work Education Fund exposes a systematic campaign to prevent employees from forming a union by T-Mobile USA and its parent company, German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom (DT). The report, "Lowering the Bar or Setting the Standard? Deutsche Telekom’s U.S. Labor Practices," presents overwhelming evidence that DT is guilty of operating by a double standard: The company respects workers’ rights in Germany, where it cooperates closely with unions, but mistreats workers in the United States  and interferes with their right to organize.

    » Press release
    » Download report (English, German)

  2. ICED OUT: How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights

    When unscrupulous employers fail to uphold labor standards for certain groups of workers, like undocumented immigrants, all U.S. workers suffer the consequences. By driving down labor standards to the lowest common denominator, it becomes harder to enforce laws and standards even for native-born workers.

    In this report we focus on the balance between the DOL’s need to protect workers’ rights and ICE’s mandate to enforce immigration laws. We examine how ICE’s failure to fully participate in this balancing act has contributed to the creation of perverse incentives against complying with fair wage and hour laws, OSHA requirements, and labor laws that protect collective bargaining rights.

    This report includes several case studies that illuminate the multiple ways ICE and the DOL could partner with each other and with other agencies to raise the floor on core labor standards.

    » Press release
    » Download report (PDF)

  3. No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing

    New findings from Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner provide a comprehensive, independent analysis of employer behavior in union representation elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Her research identifies the range and incidence of legal and illegal coercive tactics used by employers NLRB elections and the ineffectiveness of current labor law to protect and enforce workers’ rights during the process.

    Dr. Bronfenbrenner’s report also compares employer behavior in this study’s period to previous studies that she and her research teams have conducted over the last 20 years.

    » Fact Sheet
    » Full Report (PDF: 366kb)
    » Read the related press release   

  4. The Haves and Have-Nots

    How American Labor Law Denies a Quarter of the Workforce Collective Bargaining Rights

    The right to organize and bargain collectively under the protection of law is the bedrock upon which workers are able to form or join a labor union. American labor law has not kept pace with the changing nature and face of the modern workplace and increasingly excludes more and more workers from this legal protection. Increasing numbers of employees have a supervisory aspect or capacity of their work. More and more immigrants join the workforce, especially in the agricultural sector, and more people have been classified as independent contractors, whether by choice or by an employer’s decision. As these changes take place, American labor law denies these workers their legally-protected right to form unions and collectively bargain by either defining workers as not employees or by expressly excluding them.

    This report provides an accurate, up-to-date analysis of the number and type of workers without collective bargaining rights, as well as recent trends in the workforce and legal rulings that have impacted that number. There are 140.5 million people in the civilian workforce. Our research found that of these employees, 33.5 million, or 23.8%, have no rights under the NLRA or any other labor law: no legally-protected right to join or form a union, no legally-protected right to bargain collectively for their wages and conditions of work, and therefore, effectively no freedom of association in the workplace.

    » Download Executive Summary (PDF)
    » Download Full Report (PDF)

  5. The Inadequate Costs of Labor Law Violations

    Employers have little reason to abide by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), as the financial disincentives of violating the law are minimal. From firing, demoting, or retaliating against workers for their support of a union to ignoring their duty to negotiate a contract, many employers blatantly violate the NLRA. Other major federal employment laws impose fines or damages on employers who break the law. Yet the NLRA’s nominal deterrents do little to prevent employer lawlessness compared to the costs of violating minimum wage, discrimination, and health and safety protections. 

    Comparison of Employer Costs for Violating Federal Employment Laws

    If passed, the Employee Free Choice Act will address the insufficient law by increasing penalties on those who break the law and giving workers the just compensation they deserve.

  6. The Chilling Effect: Fire One Worker, Send a Powerful Message to the Rest

    For every worker fired, 395 get the message: they could be next. It is well-established that employers illegally fire workers for their support of a union in the United States. But what people may not realize is that for every worker fired, 395 coworkers receive the message: get involved with the union and you’ll get a pink slip.

    Looking at how many workers, on average, in a workplace observe someone being fired for supporting a union reveals the real impact. The firing goes far beyond a lost job, vanished income, and workplace injustice for the individual worker—it can chill support for a union by instilling fear among coworkers that they too could lose their livelihood and economic well-being.

  7. NLRB’s ‘Fired Workers’ Only Tip of the Iceberg

    Employer-Dominated Labor Law System Conceals Reality of Workers Fired for Union Activity

    Every day men and women join unions in this country to improve their jobs and economic livelihood. Unfortunately, clever employers often interfere with their workers’ support for a union. As a result, anti-union employers fire pro-union workers in 34% of organizing campaigns.*

    Adding insult to injury, fired workers discover incredible obstacles in attempts to reclaim their jobs due to a weak labor law system that favors employers. The workers who end up with an official ruling in their favor from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) represent only the tip of the iceberg of the thousands of workers fired each year for supporting a union. Rather than navigate a long and difficult process, too many fired workers end their pursuit of justice, however minimal, from the NLRB.

  8. Out of Control: Employer Misconduct During Union Organizing Far Too Common

    National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections are meant to provide workers with the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to join a union. Yet research confirms that too many employers are taking advantage of U.S. labor laws intended to protect workers’ rights to form unions. Aggressive misconduct from management widely prevents workers from exercising their choice. These findings indicate a serious need for reform of the NLRB-supervised union election process which typically skews in the favor of employers.

  9. Fed Up with FedEx

    Fed Up with FedEx When is a FedEx worker not a FedEx employee? When it benefits the FedEx Corporation.  In a new report, Fed Up with FedEx: How FedEx Ground Tramples Workers’ Rights at Civil Rights, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and American Rights at Work document the widespread use of employee misclassification at FedEx Ground, which denies workers’ fundamental civil rights and workplace protections.

    » Learn more
    » Read the executive summary
    » Download the report (PDF)

  10. Labor Law Could Learn a Lot from the NFL

    Bill Belichick knows the cost of breaking the rules. The coach of the New England Patriots was forced to cough up $500,000–about 12% of his annual salary–for spying on his opponents during the NFL’s season opener. The league’s punishment didn’t stop there – the Patriots also had to pay a quarter-million dollar fine and give up at least one draft pick. Discipline was swift and severe. All in all, the punishment was the NFL’s biggest ever, and it surely sent a message to every team in the league. The incident stands in stark contrast to another reported last week by the Las Vegas Sun involving Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest employer.

  11. Secret Ballots Aren’t Enough

    Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have a one-note strategy to derail reform of our broken labor law system.  The anti-union, right-wing, business lobby simply spins the same broken record of lies, over and over again.  Track 1 is the bogus assertion: "The bill does away with secret ballot elections, and, elections without secret ballots are undemocratic." Track 2 is the counterfeit claim: "Elections for union representation are just like elections for Congress."

  12. Why Workers Need the Employee Free Choice Act

    Under the current labor law system, employers often use a combination of legal and illegal methods to silence employees who attempt to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions. When faced with organizing drives, 25 percent of employers fire at least one pro-union worker; 51 percent threaten to close a worksite if the union prevails; and, 91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors. The solution: Labor law reform that gives workers a free choice and a fair chance to form a union.

  13. Why Mediation & Arbitration Rules are Needed

    Under current law, anti-union employers often drag workers through lengthy negotiations by delaying bargaining sessions, withholding relevant information, and putting forth bogus proposals. Even though these tactics are illegal, there are no effective deterrents to prevent “surface bargaining.”

    The Employee Free Choice Act would help ensure that workers and employers reach a first contract in a responsible period of time.

  14. Why Stronger Penalties are Needed

    Management routinely coerces employees not to choose union representation.  Freedom of association—the right of employees to join a union and bargain collectively—is theoretically guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the U.S. Constitution, and several international human rights agreements.  However, as Human Rights Watch concluded in a 2000 report on U.S. compliance with international human rights standards, employees’ freedom of association in the United States is routinely violated through employer coercion.1 

    More effective remedies against employer coercion—like injunctive relief and monetary penaltiesin the Employee Free Choice Act will help restore workers’ freedom to form unions.

  15. Law Denies Protection to Millions of Workers

    Even though the National Labor Relations Act says employees have the right to form a union and bargain collectively, in total, 32 million American workers—one quarter of the workforce—are without any legal protection to form unions and collectively bargain.

  16. U.S. Labor Law Fails to Protect Collective Bargaining

    It’s well recognized that the ability to have a say in one’s working conditions is fundamental.  That’s why the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining is considered a human right and a measure of democracy in the industrialized world.  So how is it that so few American workers have a collective voice about their working conditions?  Protection from being fired without just cause?  Or a union contract guaranteeing a level of wages and benefits?  Blame rests with the U.S. labor law system for failing to adequately protect workers’ rights to collective bargaining. 

  17. Neither Free Nor Fair

    free-fair-100.jpg Neither Free Nor Fair: The Subversion of Democracy Under NLRB Elections contrasts what NLRB elections look like in the real world with what happens in elections for public office.  

    » Full Report (PDF: 72 pages, 733 KB)
    » Executive Summary
    » Read the related press release  

  18. Free and Fair? How Labor Law Fails U.S. Democratic Election Standards

    Free and Fair?American Rights at Work commissioned University of Oregon political scientist Gordon Lafer to investigate how current union election procedures measure up to U.S. democratic standards.  In spite of the presence of secret ballots, the report concludes that union representation elections fall alarmingly short of living up to the most fundamental tenets of democracy.

    » Download the report (PDF: 38 pages, 409 KB)

  19. Some of Them are Brave: The Unfulfilled Promise of American Labor Law

    bravetinythumb.jpg This report provides an in-depth look at workers fighting for the right to form unions in Florida’s nursing home industry. Findings indicate that workers face widespread and systematic violations of their legal and human rights, and show the need for labor law reform.

    » Download the report (PDF: 24 pages, 316 KB)


  1. Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch Executive Director

    "Legal obstacles tilt the playing field so steeply against workers’ freedom of association that the United States is in violation of international human rights standards for workers." Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth

  2. John Logan, London School of Economics

    "[Union election] delays extend the duration and the effectiveness of the employer campaign and undermine employee confidence in the effectiveness of both the union and the labor board." 

  3. Gordon Lafer

    "Anti-union employers are making a mockery of the principles governing American elections.  Weak labor laws allow anti-union employers to manipulate the outcome of union elections in a manner that is inherently unfair and undemocratic."

  1. Is your boss going undercover?


    In light of the new CBS show, "Undercover Boss," American Rights at Work is launching a new grassroots campaign and website, to expose what really goes on in America’s workplaces, and to call on Congress to fix our jobs through meaningful labor law reform.

  2. “West Wing” cast speaks out!

    Just like their characters from The West Wing, Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Schiff care deeply about the struggles of working families. That’s why they came to Washington, DC to help kick off our "Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act" campaign and recorded this video.  Check it out!

  3. Fix Our Jobs!

    American Rights at Work has launched www.FixOurJobs.org, a grassroots campaign and website to highlight the inexcusable conditions and injustices that workers across America endure every day.

    We’re giving America’s workers a place to vent, and to press our nation’s leaders for big, bold fixes to our jobs crisis. 

    » Share your story
    » Sign the petition


  4. Video: A Workplace That’s Seriously Out of Whack

    Let’s face it. Something’s wrong when CEOs rake in hundreds of times what their employees earn, and workers get the boot just for talking about unions.  It could almost be a bad joke if it weren’t such a serious problem.

    That’s why we teamed up with the award-winning producers at Brave New Films to make this video about a workplace where employees work without benefits, pay is based on favoritism, and the CEO is the only one with a contract.

    After you watch, we hope you take a minute to sign our petition for the Employee Free Choice Act.  

  5. Video: Employee Free Choice Act

    This video shows what the Employee Free Choice Act is all about.  Originally produced for SEIU at their international convention last month, this 8-minute movie explains what the Employee Free Choice Act is, why we need it, and who it’d help.  If you’ve got eight minutes, sit back, press play, and pass on this video to friends and family.

  1. The NLRB: Policing Repeat Offenders with a Water Pistol

    As a mother I’ve learned that regardless of his repeated assurances, my toddler will only stop harassing his little brother when there are real consequences to his misbehavior (i.e., no more train video). Yet when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged Consolidated Biscuit with illegally harassing its union supporters–despite the company’s pledge to stop in two previous settlements—the agency didn’t provide any real consequences.

    Rather than pursuing an injunction and contempt-of-court charges against the company to prevent further violations, they decided to negotiate yet another settlement. This milquetoast response to a habitual unionbuster illustrates why we need the Employee Free Choice Act, which would increase penalties for unlawful employers, and require the use of injunctions to curb employers’ bad behavior when there’s reasonable cause to believe that someone’s rights have been violated.

  2. NLRB In Legal Limbo, Swift Action by Senate Needed

    Two contradicting court decisions issued last week leave the National Labor Relations Board in legal limbo.  For the past 16 months, Wilma Liebman and Peter Schaumber have jointly issued 400 decisions, preventing a major backlog of cases while the Board was down by three members.  Yet the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington just held that it was invalid for them to issue two-member decisions, while a federal appellate court in Chicago upheld the validity of their decisions.  It will likely take a Supreme Court decision to clear up the legal matter.

    It is all the more imperative now that the Senate swiftly confirm President Obama’s nominees for two vacant Board seats. If the Board is forced to re-examine all of those cases when another member is appointed, it must do so quickly in order to minimize the damage done to workers.  Behind each of those cases are real people who are waiting for their union to be recognized, waiting for their employer to come to the bargaining table, and waiting to collect backpay for a wrongful termination.

  3. The Weakest Federal Employment Law

    If I were a scurrilous lawyer advising a new employer on federal employment laws, I would tell them not to worry about violating the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). When an employer violates any of the three major federal employment laws covering minimum wage, discrimination, or safety, they must at least pay fines or damages. Yet there are no penalties assessed on employers who commit unfair labor practices under the NLRA. Check out this new chart released by American Rights at Work, which illustrates just how poorly the costs of violating labor law compare with the costs of violating other employment laws:

    Federal Employment Laws


  4. Workers Left Out of NLRB Settlement Process

    A friendly reminder to staff of the National Labor Relations Board: your agency exists to protect the interests of workers—not the employers who break the law. I’m compelled to bring this up because of the recent actions taken by a regional NLRB office to settle a complaint against an employer without any input from the nurses who brought the charges.

    In May of this year, nurses at Legacy Hospital in Portland, OR, filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, alleging their employer illegally barred nurses from discussing the union in all areas of the worksite, and called in security to escort nurses off the property for engaging in union activity. On September 30, the NLRB issued a complaint charging the company with illegally suppressing union activity, and scheduled a hearing for October.*

    Yet without consulting with the nurses, the NLRB canceled the hearing and settled the charges with the hospital, which simply agreed to post a notice describing the nurses’ rights under the law. None of the nurses’ concerns were addressed.

  5. Anti-Union Firings Left Unanswered by the NLRB

    When a worker is fired for union activity, the impact of that firing extends not only to the individual worker, but to her coworkers that receive the anti-union message from the employer.  According to new research by American Rights at Work, for every worker  fired, 395 coworkers receive the message: support the union and get the pink slip. Employers are very effectively chilling union activity with few consequences.

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) only gets a small percentage of fired workers back on the job—leaving the employer’s anti-union message to go unanswered.  Between 1999 and 2007, only 11 percent of the 86,000 workers that filed charges alleging they were illegally fired for union activity received an NLRB offer of reinstatement. Thirty-five percent accepted some form of settlement, rather than waiting for the lengthy NLRB process to get their jobs back.

  6. Union Organizers Assaulted, NLRB Doesn’t Bother Pursuing the Case

    If you’re attacked while peacefully protesting, you’d expect to have someone to turn to for justice. If you’re attacked while picketing outside a workplace, it’s natural to turn to the National Labor Relations Board—the agency charged with protecting workers’ freedom of association. Yet when five union organizers in Los Angeles filed charges with the NLRB alleging they were brutally attacked by employees with 2x4s sent by Herix and Golden Gate Steel, building contractors they were picketing, the NLRB Regional Director actually dismissed the charges.

    According to the lawyer representing the union organizers, Ellyn Moscowitz, the NLRB just informed her they decided not to pursue the case since it wasn’t clear who started the violence. Moscowitz noted, however, that the only witness claiming the organizers started the violence is the owner of the contracting companies that were picketed for alleged safety violations.

    Undaunted by the NLRB’s decision, the organizers are continuing to pursue justice. They recently filed a civil suit with the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging the companies unlawfully assaulted them because of their protected involvement in a labor dispute. Luckily, these organizers can seek protections from a state law when the federal government has left them out in the cold.

    If the NLRB has a good defense for dismissing this case without even pursuing a complaint and administrative law judge trial, I’d be happy to hear it.

  7. Out of Control: Employer Misconduct During Organizing

    It’s hard to imagine that our American democracy would survive if in nearly half of political elections held, there were allegations of illegal coercion and intimidation, and if four in 10 elections never took place because of such intimidation. Yet this is the situation facing workers attempting to form unions through National Labor Relations Board elections, according to new statistics released by American Rights at Work.

  8. Debt Consolidators, Unite!

    Eye on the NLRB logo We hear of janitors, nurses, and auto workers collectively fighting to improve their working conditions, but the financial sector isn’t known as a hotbed of organizing activity. Yet a recent case of debt consolidator solidarity should inspire others in this rapidly changing industry. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board charged Debt Settlement USA with illegally firing four debt consultants when they stood up to fight a proposed wage cut, and for illegally barring employees from discussing pay issues with each other.

  9. Workers: 11, Goya: 0, Yet Goya Is Still Winning

    Last week, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision against Goya Foods in Miami, ordering the company to cease making unilateral changes to its employees’ benefit plans without bargaining with its workers’ union over the changes.  According to Bruce Raynor, President of UNITE HERE, which represents these workers, this decision was the eleventh won by the workers against Goya Foods. 

    Yet in a recent speech before the American Sociological Association, Raynor noted that these legal victories mean little as the company still refused to sit down and bargain with the union.

    As I recently pointed out, the Goya workers voted for union representation in 1998, yet 10 years of decisions by the circuit courts and the NLRB couldn’t bring Goya to the bargaining table. Clearly we need an overhaul of our labor law to ensure that workers who vote for a union actually secure a contract with their employers. The Employee Free Choice Act holds that promise for workers.

  10. Blue Man’s Unionbusting Betrays its Artistic Message

    Sixteen years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Blue Man Group’s original show in New York City.  I reveled in the drumming, marshmallow tossing, and sense of community the artists encouraged in the midst of the information overload of our time.  One longtime Blue Man summed up the show’s message in an interview with the Victoria Times Colonist in 2007:

    We live in this technology age which connects us so amazingly… and yet, it’s sort of made us more alone than we’ve ever been.

    But Blue Man’s artistic vision for more personal connection is belied by its recent actions repressing its employees’ efforts to come together for a stronger voice at work. 

    According to a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board, the Blue Man Group’s company illegally barred its Las Vegas employees from freely discussing their working conditions, discriminated against a union supporter, and refused to recognize and bargain with the employees’ union—more than two years after they voted for representation.  These are typical violations of the law by anti-union American employers…but for Blue Man?  Looks like it’s just The Man now—more concerned with making money than respecting its employees’ rights.

  11. Bush Administration Should Follow Bush’s Own Standard for Free Elections

    You can’t have free elections if a candidate is not allowed to campaign freely and his supporters aren’t allowed to campaign without fear of intimidation.

    Those were the wise words of President Bush, commenting on the recent sham election in Zimbabwe.  Yet here at home, Bush finds the National Labor Relations Board election process to be fair and democratic, despite the fact that it bears no resemblance to what we would consider fair elections. Workers have little freedom to campaign for a union in the workplace, and employer intimidation is pervasive.

    An NLRB administrative law judge recently ruled that a fair election could still occur where an employer had illegally intimidated its workers out of organizing.  In 2006, a small group of car dealership employees in San Jose, CA, lost the benefits of union representation when their company changed ownership.  The new company forced them to withdraw their union membership in order to continue working there, and committed numerous illegal tactics to prevent the workers from forming a union.

  12. A Gift to Wal-Mart from the NLRB

    The National Labor Relations Board just found Wal-Mart guilty of illegally firing a union supporter, bribing employees, and discriminatorily refusing to protect union supporters from the harassment of their anti-union coworker, all in an effort to prevent workers from forming a union at its Kingman, AZ, store.

    How is this decision a gift to Wal-Mart?  Because it was issued eight years after the organizing effort began—eight years after it could have had any impact on the union effort.  Thus Wal-Mart breaks the law, successfully squashes the union effort, benefits from the slow case-handling procedures at the NLRB, and merely has to pony up a little backpay and interest to the employee it fired.  It’s no wonder this country’s largest private employer has managed to stay entirely union-free.

  13. Remedy a Drop in the Cup of Starbucks’ Fortune

    A Starbucks employee in Grand Rapids, Mich., is claiming he was fired last week for trying to form a union.  This allegation follows on the heels of a recent National Labor Relations Board settlement that ordered the company to reinstate two New York City workers it illegally fired for organizing, and to stop spying on employees, withholding raises, prohibiting workers from wearing union buttons, and other illegal tactics used to thwart their union effort.

    Why, after this settlement, would Starbucks potentially break the law again?  Could it be that the company only had to pay paltry sum of $1,925 to the two fired New York City workers—with no penalties and no impact on the company’s bottom line?

  14. When Voting for a Union Is Only the Start of the Struggle

    Here’s a tale told far too often: workers have come together to vote for a union, but don’t have a contract in their workplace.  Why?  Their employer unlawfully refuses to bargain with them and the National Labor Relations Board fails to enforce our weak labor law. 

    Ten years after Goya Foods employees in Miami voted for a union, a circuit court judge ordered the company to finally negotiate a contract.  This is yet another example of why Congress must amend labor law to grant workers the right to first contract arbitration, ensuring that their vote for a union actually leads to a union contract.

  15. Seeking Justice at the Labor Board? Don’t Hold Your Breath

    Way back in 1989, over 200 Domsey Trading employees decided to form a union and the company retaliated with physical assaults, racial and sexual abuse, and illegally firings.  Yet these workers had to wait until this past September for the National Labor Relations Board to confirm the amount of backpay the company owed them.  I’m a patient person, but 18 years is a long time for wait for justice.  Tragically, one of the main union supporters passed away before he could collect his backpay. 

    The Domsey Trading case is one of many issued by the Labor Board in September marred by outrageous delays…

  16. Labor Board Further Victimizes the Victim

    In September, the National Labor Relations Board issued an unprecedented number of decisions undermining workers’ fundamental rights.  Two of these decisions added new hurdles that workers must overcome before they can receive what employers have unlawfully taken away, most involving backpay. In one case, the NLRB made it even cheaper for employers to fire union supporters to chill an organizing effort.  In the other, the Republican majority of the Board reversed a 45-year precedent to shift a burden of proof from the employer to the worker, to make it more difficult for fired workers to collect backpay. 

  17. Radical Labor Board Ruling Undermines Organizing Efforts

     Until now, workers have successfully formed unions through voluntary recognition, a process where employers agree to recognize a union once a majority of workers sign cards.  This peaceful, swift, and non-disruptive organizing method provides an alternative to the flawed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process.  However, workers and employers who use this method are now undermined by a major ruling of the NLRB.  The Republican majority of the Board sided with anti-union groups in radically changing the law.  Without providing legitimate factual evidence to justify reversing 40 years of precedent, the Board exposed its real political motivations.

  18. NLRB OKs Retaliation Against Workers Who Seek Community Support

    On May 15, 2006, the Republican majority of the Board ruled that a treatment center for children and adolescents did not retaliate against its employees when it terminated its funding from the United Way after the organization supported employees’ bargaining efforts.  The loss of funding meant fewer hours and less pay for several employees. The majority of the Board concluded that the employer merely acted in response to an "intrusion" by a third party, reversing a 2004 decision of an administrative law judge who determined that this tactic was indeed retaliation.

  19. Key Enforcement Tool Collects Dust at Bush NLRB

    The National Labor Relations Act is an overwhelmingly toothless law —one that provides its ‘enforcers’ with meaningless penalties to assess on violators, and workers with little protection.  But the Act does offer the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with one key tool to protect workers: the 10(j) injunction, which authorizes the NLRB to intervene when there is strong evidence that an employer has committed unfair labor practices.  Unfortunately, the use of this important enforcement mechanism has dropped dramatically under the Bush NLRB, much to the benefit of lawless employers.

  20. Unionbusters Score Big in ’05 with NLRB as Coach & Referee

    Last year was quite the year for anti-union employers.  The Republican majority of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) went out of its way to endorse the unscrupulous tactics of employers at the expense of workers’ rights.

  21. Higher Court Calls Bush NLRB Out on a Bad Decision

    A federal appeals court recently joined the growing chorus of critics of the National Labor Relations Board’s Republican majority.  The Seventh Circuit Court issued a harsh assessment of the Board last month when they ruled to overturn its finding that an employer’s partial lockout of pro-union workers was legal.  The decision wasn’t handed down by “liberal activist judges,” as you might have expected.  Rather, a trio of Republican-appointed judges denounced the Bush Board.

  22. Extra, Extra: NLRB Denies Newspaper Carriers Right to Organize

    Given all the obstacles workers face when forming unions these days, the last thing they should have to worry about is whether they are, in fact, workers under the law.  Yet for the third time since 2004, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that a category of workers should not be considered employees.  This time around, newspaper delivery carriers didn’t make the cut.  But the NLRB decision didn’t simply end a semantic debate for thousands of men and women who deliver newspapers around the country, it denied them legal protection to form a union to improve their working conditions. 

  23. NLRB Paves the Way for Parking Lot Over People

    All workers—whether they are in a union or not—are supposed to be protected under the National Labor Relations Act when they engage in reasonable on-site work stoppages or job actions. Try telling that to the 83 employees who the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled were allowed to be fired after peacefully protesting on their employer’s parking lot.  This recent NLRB decision sends the message that employers and their parking lots are more worthy of protection than the already limited rights of workers.

  24. Big Brother Nixes Happy Hour

    It is a regular pastime for co-workers to chat during a coffee break, at a union hall, or over a beer about workplace issues, good grilling recipes, and celebrity gossip.  Yet a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allows employers to ban off-duty fraternizing among co-workers, severely weakening the rights of free association and speech, and violating basic standards of privacy for America’s workers.

  25. NLRB Retroactively Applies Ruling to Pending Cases

    Imagine the outrage if the Supreme Court retroactively applied a new fundraising ruling to elected officials, and politicians were removed from office even though their campaigns had raised money in a manner that was legal at the time. While such a ruling sounds preposterous for our country’s highest court, it would be perfectly acceptable under the U.S. labor law system. 

  26. Union Members Need Not Apply

    Just as it’s against the law for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, age, or disability in hiring practices, it’s illegal to not hire someone because of their union affiliation.  Yet that’s exactly what happened to eight electricians in Nebraska.  Although the National Labor Relations Board just ruled in their favor, the case demonstrates that while discrimination is technically illegal, a weak and delay-ridden labor law system renders it an effective strategy for an employer to remain union-free. 

  27. Thanks to the NLRB, Workers Organize Unions at a Snail’s Pace

    When five workers voted unanimously to form a union through the National Labor Relations Board process, they likely thought it would be a matter of weeks before they could begin bargaining with their employer.  They were mistaken.  Two years and three separate legal determinations later, these workers haven’t gotten to the bargaining stage, thanks to an NLRB election process enabling frivolous legal objections filed by the employer.

  28. Vast Majority of American Workers Are Without Real Protection by the NLRB

    As we’ve made clear in our Workers Rights Watch: Eye on the NLRB series, a number of recent decisions from the National Labor Relations Board have restricted the rights of workers struggling to form unions. What we haven’t mentioned before is that the Board has narrowed legal protections for the majority of Americans who are not represented by a union, but who need to turn to co-workers for ‘mutual aid and protection’ when they fear employer reprisal.  A case involving a non-union Wal-Mart employee makes evident how labor law impedes rather than protects these workers’ rights.

  29. Workers Denied Access to Critical Information Before Election

    The U.S. electoral system is held up around the world as a model of democracy.  Strong principles guide free and fair elections in order to protect the rights of voters and the integrity of the system.  One such principle is that candidates and campaigns have equal access to voters, which is granted primarily through the public distribution of voter rolls. Yet union representation elections do not measure up to these democratic standards.

  30. NLRB Applying Double Standard to Supervisor Conduct

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has long held that it is legal for supervisors to vigorously campaign against union organizing efforts.  Even employers who force employees to attend anti-union meetings are acting lawfully.  Yet the Bush-appointed majority of the Board recently ruled that pro-union conduct by a supervisor was objectionable, coercive, and grounds for overturning a five-year-old union election victory.

  31. Is Another NLRB Election Really A Solution For These Workers?

    When a small group of engineers asked for union recognition, their employer responded with retaliation so severe—including threats of job loss, unlawful surveillance, and the firing of their co-worker—that it was no wonder they voted against forming a union when the election was eventually held.  Unfortunately, the engineers had to wait for two years for a judge to find the employer guilty.  And while the judge threw out the results of the election and ordered the employer to recognize the union and bargain with the engineers, the ruling was immediately appealed by the employer.  The ultimate insult for the engineers, however, was the National Labor Relations Board’s recent decision to overturn the judge’s ruling. The Bush-appointed NLRB members decided that the best solution to an employer seriously threatening and intimidating employees was… another election.

  32. NLRB Turns Back the Clock, Relegates Disabled Workers to Second-Class Status

    This summer, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) told hard-working graduate research and teaching assistants that they were not workers, and therefore denied them the right to organize and collectively bargain.  Workers’ rights took another step backwards when the NLRB recently decided that disabled employees who receive rehabilitative services from their employer are not workers, and are therefore ineligible to form a union under the protections of federal law.  This ruling is not only a major setback for disabled Americans and their efforts to fully integrate into the workforce and society, but represents another move by the NLRB to shrink federal protections of worker rights. 

  33. Board Silent as Employer Violence Against Workers Continues

    North Carolina meatpackers have endured grisly working conditions, unfair pay, and a decade of attacks on their right to organize.  So why has the NLRB failed to rule on their case for four years?   

  34. Employers Threaten, Coerce, and Bribe Employees to Bust Their Unions

    When employees collectively decide that they no longer wish to be represented by a union, they have the ability under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to vote to revoke union representation at their workplace.  This process, known as a decertification, is expressly intended for workers to initiate, not employers.  While it is illegal for employers to orchestrate a decertification election to rid employees of their union, they can use their position of power to break the law with little fear of the consequences. 

  35. A Legal “Union Avoidance” Strategy for Employers: The Appeals Process

    Workers at Pearson Educational, Inc. in Indianapolis have been in limbo since they voted for union representation six years ago.  It all started in June of 1998, when a majority of warehouse and distribution workers chose union representation.  Instead of accepting the results of the election and negotiating wages, benefits, and working conditions with its employees, the company chose to appeal, resulting in a delay that stalled bargaining for years.  On July 6, 2004, the appeals process was exhausted, the result of the election was confirmed, and the company was finally ordered to bargain six years after the workers voted for union representation.

  36. Weakness of Labor Law Remedies Undermines Workers’ Rights

    What would prevent a corporation from lying to shareholders about profits if its only punishment was to promise it wouldn’t lie again?  Sadly, when a company violates labor law, often the company’s only punishment is to post a notice promising not to break the law again.  With remedies like this, there is little to deter employers from violating labor law.  In May 2004, the NLRB ordered just such a remedy, and if anything, it sent a message to nurses in Albany, NY, that the law does little to protect their rights. 

  37. No Guarantee of Timely Union Election Process for U.S. Workers

    On September 18, 2003, workers at New York Display & Die Cutting Corp. cast ballots to decide on union representation.  Yet even with just 26 ballots cast, it wasn’t until June 3, 2004—more than eight months after the election—that the results were announced. The workers at the sign and display production company expected and deserved a swift resolution, but were instead forced to hold their breath awaiting the election outcome. 

  38. Labor Law Remedies Come Too Little, Too Late

    David Snead worked for Hewlett Packard (HP) for years with a clean work record.  Then in February 2002, he discussed the idea of forming a union with his co-workers. Not long after his supervisors learned of David’s efforts to organize a union, they illegally fired him for misconduct he had not committed, according to a recently issued decision of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

  39. Behind Closed Doors, NLRB Decides Fate of Millions of Workers

     Behind closed doors, the fate of millions of America’s workers will be decided by the National Labor Relations Board.  The five-member Board is considering three cases which could strip millions of workers-including nurses, quality control inspectors, sales representatives, and many others-of their rights to form a union and collectively bargain.  Yet despite the great significance of the ruling, the Republican majority of the Board is refusing to hold public hearings on the matter.

About Our Organization

American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.


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