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Eye on the NLRB
The Weakest Federal Employment Law
Written by Erin Johansson   
November 24, 2008

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


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One Quarter of the Workforce Without the Right to Organize
Written by Erin Johansson   
November 24, 2008

According to new numbers released by American Rights at Work, 33.5 million people—24% of the workforce—have no legally-protected right to form a union. This is an embarrassing number for an advanced democracy like ours. As a Human Rights Watch report noted, large exclusions of workers from the protections of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) “run counter to international human rights standards compelling broad protection of workers' freedom of association.”

Why are so many workers without the right to organize? The NLRA excludes several classes of workers, including public employees, agricultural workers, and independent contractors, and many states have failed to pass laws extending coverage to these employees. Additionally, decisions by the Bush Labor Board have excluded employees with minimal supervisory duties, disabled janitors, graduate student assistants, newspaper carriers, and other categories of workers from the law’s protections. And employers are increasingly misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, denying them the right to form unions and gain other employment law protections.

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Workers Left Out of NLRB Settlement Process
Written by Erin Johansson   
November 14, 2008

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.

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Anti-Union Firings Left Unanswered by the NLRB
Written by Erin Johansson   
October 30, 2008

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.

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Union Organizers Assaulted, NLRB Doesn't Bother Pursuing the Case
Written by Erin Johansson   
October 16, 2008

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.

Half a Million and Counting
Written by Erin Johansson   
September 17, 2008

The anti-union Employee Freedom Action Committee is spending millions to run advertisements depicting majority sign-up as a new, off-the-wall, and anti-democratic process that, if the Employee Free Choice Act passes, will allow unions to intimidate employees into joining.

Yet new research by American Rights at Work reveals that with little fanfare, more than half a million Americans have already formed unions through majority sign-up since 2003. In fact, majority sign-up is now more commonly used than the National Labor Relations Board election process—no surprise given that research has found it to be less coercive.

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Out of Control: Employer Misconduct During Organizing
Written by Erin Johansson   
September 17, 2008

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.

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Debt Consolidators, Unite!
Written by Erin Johansson   
August 21, 2008

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.

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Workers: 11, Goya: 0, Yet Goya Is Still Winning
Written by Erin Johansson   
August 06, 2008

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.

Blue Man's Unionbusting Betrays its Artistic Message
Written by Erin Johansson   
July 31, 2008

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.

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What is the NLRB?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a federal agency responsible for protecting workers' rights to form unions and promoting collective bargaining.


»  More about the NLRB

About the Author

Erin Johansson Erin Johansson writes our Eye on the NLRB blog.  Erin has worked as a Senior Research Associate at American Rights at Work since 2004 and is the author of some of our reports.  


» Learn more about Erin.

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