As demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, unions continue to be an essential tool for workers in helping to secure workplace safety measures, paid sick time, additional premium pay, and work-share arrangements. While the necessity of unions is clear, many groups of workers throughout America are hesitant to unionize in fear of employer retaliation. Attorney Naomi Soldon, a partner at Soldon McCoy, specializes in employment law and has handled countless employee benefits suits in arbitration and in state and federal courts. Today, Naomi Soldon will answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding unions and unionizing in hopes of reducing misinformation regarding this topic.
Why are Unions Important?
The power imbalance between workers and employers is prominent, and oftentimes, workers will have little say over their working conditions, wages, or hours. Unions are vital because they help to reduce this power imbalance and help set standards for a better quality of life for workers. Unions can help negotiate wages, benefits, working conditions, and health care for workers. Unions can help establish laws improving conditions for their members and through national and state legislation, also benefiting workers outside of unions.
What is a collective bargaining agreement?
A collective bargaining agreement, otherwise known as a C.B.A., is a legal agreement negotiated between a labor union and an employer that sets terms and conditions of employment for employees who are members of the labor union. A CBA will often include sections related to wages, working hours, working conditions, health insurance benefits, and vacation time. Once the collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon, a company’s management cannot reduce wages or change health insurance benefits without first negotiating with union representatives. The C.B.A. states that employees are entitled to vote on changes made to their contract. If an employer does not abide by the agreed-upon terms, the union will enforce the contract through a grievance procedure and sometimes in arbitration.
Can Employers Fire Workers for Unionizing? The right to collective bargaining, or the right to organize, is a fundamental right provided to workers in the private sector by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The labor relation laws in the private sector clearly state in Sec. 7 that employees “…shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” (NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 157). Workers cannot be fired, demoted, penalized, or disciplined in any way for engaging in any union activity.