Last week, fast-food restaurant employees made national headlines as they walked off the job to go “on strike.” In addition to their cry for higher wages, the workers made a curious demand: the right to form a union without retaliation. Apparently unbeknownst to these workers--and likely unknown to some restaurant owners and managers--is that the legal right to form a union has existed for nearly 80 years and is in force today.
So what does all of this mean for companies and management in 2014? Although union membership has been declining for decades, companies with large employee bases--including restaurants and hotels--remain targets for unionization. Employers must not only create and maintain a positive working environment that, by its nature, causes employees to see no need to unionize, they must also be prepared to react, and react quickly, when union organizing begins.
At the same time, management must not do anything to retaliate against employees who support, assist, or sympathize with labor unions. To state the obvious, you can’t fire an employee for his/her union sympathies. Retaliation can, in addition, encompass other employment actions, such as discipline, demotion, or refusing to promote. It can be helpful to treat open union-supporters just like protected-class employees (just like race, gender, disability, and age, for example) under various anti-discrimination laws. Management should not treat those employees better or worse because of their union activities.
The NLRA is complex, arcane, and ever-changing. Should you have questions, it is important to seek advice from employment attorneys with specific knowledge and experience practicing “traditional labor law” under the NLRA.