Webinar Recap - Labor Unions: What Restaurants Need to Know

Posted By: Susie Leggett GRA News, Legal + Regulatory, Restaurant Industry News, Restaurant Operations,

Webinar Recap - Labor Unions: What Restaurants Need to Know

Unionization efforts have been making national news over the past few months. Although unions have been an integral part of the United States economy for centuries, it can be challenging for employers to navigate union negotiations and to understand their own legal responsibility to their employees. 

In last week’s webinar, Patricia J. Hill, head of the Labor and Employment Law Practice Group at Smith, Gambrell, & Russell LLC, shared her expertise on the history of labor and employment law, the role of labor unions, and best practices for employers faced with unionization efforts in their own restaurants. 


The National Labor Relations Act: In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) went into effect and laid the groundwork for navigating employer-employee relations. To be covered by the NLRA:  

  • “Non-retailers must have an annual inflow or outflow of goods sold or services provided by employer.” This means that employers must have at least $50,000 a year in goods and services going from your restaurant to another state or you get at least $50,000 a year in goods and services coming into the state of Georgia.  
  • Even if you do not operate outside of Georgia, your restaurant may fall under the NLRA if you purchased equipment manufactured in another state.  
  • You must have at least 2 hourly employees – salaried employees and/or managers are not covered by the NLRA. 

Pat emphasized Section VII of the NLRA, that guarantees employees "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.” 

Why the NLRA? This legislation was established to:  

  • protect the rights of employees and employers. 
  • encourage collective bargaining. 
  • curtail certain private sector labor and management practices which may harm employees or the U.S. economy.  

Who Enforces the NLRA? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handles labor elections, claims of unfair labor practices, and strikes nationwide. During the past year and a half, the NLRB has partnered with several Federal Agencies, including the FTC, DOJ, DOL, OSHA, and EEOC, to enforce the NLRA.  The result of the partnership means that when an agency such as the DOL audits a company and notices that the company prohibits employees to discuss wages and benefits, the DOL reports that to the NLRB.  The NLRB can then pursue a violation of the NLRA. 

How Can Workers Join a Union? The union must receive signed authorization cards from at least 30% of the staff at your establishment; then, they will file a petition with the NLRB to hold an election. The NLRB will conduct a secret ballot election, that requires a simple majority (50% of votes cast plus one vote)  vote for the union to win. Georgia is aRight to Work State,” that means workers may join a union, but they are not required to pay dues.  If the employee does not become a union member after a union receives a simple majority of the votes, the employee cannot be terminated for not becoming a union member. 


What You CANNOT Do, As an Employer: * 

  • Prohibit employees from discussing their wages. 
  • Ask your employees for their opinion on the union.  
  • Threaten employees with termination, reduction of income, disciplinary action, or loss of privileges.  
  • Offer pay increases to discourage employees from joining the union.  
  • Intimidate employees for supporting unions. 
  • Prevent employees from seeking union membership during their off time – even on company property, as long as they remain in non-work areas and do not interfere with the work of others.  

Pat provides a helpful acronym to remind employers of what is not permitted under the NLRB: 

T - Threats 

I - Interrogation 

P - Promises 

S – Surveillance 

What you CAN do: * 

  • Remind your employees of exceptional benefits provided in the workplace. 
  • Educate employees on the cost of union dues and initiation fees – these are reported to the Department of Labor and can be found here.  
  • State that your company is opposed to unionization, and why.  
  • Conduct regular surveys to gauge employee satisfaction before an election petition is filed. 

*This information is provided for educational purposes only. Please consult your trusted legal representation for advice. Any questions regarding unions or labor and employment law can be directed to: 


Patricia J. Hill 

Labor and Employment 

Smith, Gambrell, & Russell LLC