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What Is the NLRB?

If you want to improve your pay or working conditions or think of forming a union, you may be worried about how your employer will react. However, if you work in the private sector, there's a good chance you're protected by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB enforces federal labor laws. Labor law deals with collective bargainingunions, and other issues related to organized labor.

Read on to learn more about the NLRB and how it can protect you as an employee.

Origins of the NLRB

The NLRB was formed in 1935. The federal agency enforces the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA).

National Labor Relations Act

The NLRA protects "the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices." It's the main federal labor law governing private-sector collective bargaining.

Before the NLRA came into effect, employers resisted recognizing labor unions and engaging in collective bargaining, while the legal system also rejected employees' right to strike. The NLRA granted workers the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.

The Composition of the NLRB

The NLRB comprises a five-member board, the general counsel, a division of judges, and other offices and divisions.

The president of the United States appoints the general counsel and the members of the board with the consent of the U.S. Senate for five-year terms.

The NLRB's headquarters is in Washington, D.C. It also has several regional offices to help with local union elections and alleged NLRA violations.

Who Is Subject to the NLRB?

Private-sector employers whose business activity in interstate commerce exceeds certain minimal levels fall under the jurisdiction of the NLRB. This can include:

  • Nonunion businesses
  • Labor organizations
  • Nonprofits
  • Employee-owned businesses

For example, retailers are subject to the NLRB's jurisdiction if their gross annual volume of business is at least $500,000. For shopping centers, jurisdiction includes those with gross annual business of at least $100,000.

The NLRB has jurisdiction over most private-sector employers, but it doesn't cover:

  • Federal and state government employees
  • Agricultural laborers
  • Independent contractors
  • Supervisors
  • Employees for rail and air carriers covered by the Railway Labor Act

You don't have to be in a union to be protected. If you're simply working with others to improve conditions at work, and you otherwise fall under the NLRB's jurisdiction, you can seek help from the NLRB.

Employee Rights Protected by the NLRB

The NLRB protects workers' rights to collectively attempt to improve their working conditions and wages, whether in a union or not. Rights of employees protected by the NLRB include union activity, such as forming or attempting to form a union and engaging in concerted activity to improve the conditions of employment.

Concerted activity is legally protected under Section 7 of the NLRA. Concerted activity happens when co-workers attempt to address work-related issues. The NLRA's prohibition on retaliation means that an employer cannot threaten or discipline, including firing, workers for participating in concerted activity. Such activities can include:

  • Organizing a union
  • Talking to co-workers about working conditions
  • Demanding better working conditions
  • Bringing group complaints to an employer's attention

So, if you and a colleague are trying to work with your employer to increase your pay or address safety concerns at work, the NLRB protects your activity.

How Does the NLRB Help Employees?

The NLRB plays several roles in aiding employees to unionize or improve their working conditions. Below are the main responsibilities of the board:

  • Protecting employees' right to organize and determine whether a union should be their bargaining representative
  • Conduct elections when employees are attempting to organize bargaining units in their workplace (or to dissolve their union through a decertification election)
  • Investigate alleged violations of the NLRA (i.e., unfair labor practices)
  • Encourage settlements between parties involved in an NLRA violation
  • Decide cases where settlement can't be reached (the NLRB includes 40 administrative law judges in addition to the five-member board)
  • Seek enforcement in the U.S. Courts of Appeals when parties don't voluntarily comply with an NLRB order

Unfair Labor Practice Charges

One of the NLRB's most important responsibilities is investigating unfair labor practice charges. The agency receives thousands of charges of unfair labor practices every year from employees, unions, and employers.

Complaints must be filed at an NLRB Regional Office within six months of the alleged violation. The regional office investigates the charge and issues a complaint if the charge has merit.

The NLRB notes on its website that it encourages parties to work out a settlement rather than take the matter to court even if it determines that an unfair labor practice has occurred. The agency says that over 90% of unfair labor practice cases that have merit are settled.

If a settlement is not reached, the agency will hold a hearing. An NLRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) presides. The judge issues a decision and a recommended order after considering the evidence. Either party can appeal the decision.

The Right To Strike

Some people believe that strikes are illegal. However, the NLRB clearly states that workers have the right to strike under the law.

Defend Your Rights at Work

Fighting for better pay or working conditions can be intimidating, especially since not all employers and managers welcome such efforts. However, you have many rights as an employee under the NLRA and other state and federal laws. If you're considering union activity or unsure about your rights and options, contact a local labor attorney who can advise you about your rights and steer you in the right direction.

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