Labor unions are groups of employees in specific trades or industries that organize to defend and to advance the rights and interests in the workplace. The workers in a union share ideas regarding improving their working conditions.

Workers unite as a union because they believe their demands will be better met if they approach their employer with a collaborative, unified voice. Working conditions members of a union may seek include:

  • A sanitary and safe work environment;
  • Higher wages;
  • Health and medical benefits such as insurance;
  • Unbiased and equal systems for promotions and firings; or
  • Protections against unjust punishment or termination.

Labor unions are governed by labor union laws, specifically the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA ensures the rights of workers to be represented by a union.

In addition, the NLRA forbids an employer from meddling with their worker’s selection of a union. The provisions of the NLRA also facilitate the collective bargaining process.

The Taft-Hartley Act, an amendment to the NLRA, regulates labor unions by prohibiting them from forcing workers to join a union or to decline to bargain in good faith with an employer. The NLRA also prohibits threats or brutality to facilitate union agendas.

Additionally, the NLRA prohibits a union from levying excessive dues. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was established by the NLRA.

The NLRB is an administrative agency that hears conflicts between unions and employers. The NLRB decides what union should represent a group of workers.

The NLRB has developed rules and guidelines for the formation of unions. It also has a General Counsel that examines union or employer declarations of unjust bargaining as well as creates regulations and procedures for collective bargaining.

In addition to the federal NLRA, there are numerous states which have laws that address the issue of unions as well as state labor union rules and regulations. There are some states that have regulations that are comparable to the NLRA.

These laws may apply to employers that are not covered by federal law. There are some union activities that the NLRA prohibits, which include:

  • Threatening workers with the loss of employment if they do not support the union;
  • Seeking discipline of an employee for not being a union member even if the worker has paid or offered to pay the needed fees;
  • Declining to handle the grievance of an employee because the worker has rebuked the union or because an employee is not a member of the union in states where union security clauses are not permitted;
  • Attempting to fine workers who have validly resigned from the union or who cross an illegal picket line;
  • Engaging in mischief on picket lines, such as threatening, attacking, or blocking non-strikers from the employer’s premises; and
  • Striking about matters unrelated to the terms and conditions of employment, for example, political subjects.

What do Union Lawyers do?

Labor union lawyers are typically hired by unions to represent them in connection with their legal affairs. As previously noted, labor union laws were enacted to mediate the rights and duties of both employees and employers.

In addition to the federal NLRA, many states have laws governing unions and labor law, as previously noted. It is common for both union members in the public and private sectors in addition to the unions themselves to seek out the advice of an experienced labor law lawyer.

Labor law lawyers will appear in many places to represent unions and their members, including:

  • State courts;
  • Federal courts;
  • Administrative agencies;
  • The NLRB; and
  • Commissions.

Examples of issues that a labor law attorney may handle include:

  • Organizing union campaigns;
  • Representing labor unions in their negotiations with employers;
  • Representing employees in disputes relating to benefits;
  • Handling sexual harassment and discrimination involving unions;
  • Handling arbitration of various employee grievances. Certain employees such as police officers and firefighters are prohibited from striking, and, thus, undergo grievance and interest arbitration;
  • Representing employees or unions in front of the NLRB;
  • Representing unions if they are investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL); and
  • Representing employees or unions in collective bargaining negotiations.

Union labor law lawyers may also handle issues including:

  • Day-to-day union operations;
  • Union elections;
  • Union record keeping; and
  • Concerns related to human resources.

A union will typically seek the assistance of a labor law attorney when facing:

  • Employer downsizing;
  • Employer relocations;
  • Employer closings; and
  • Bankruptcies.

What is Collective Bargaining?

When unions are certified by the vote of the workers in a certain place of employment, the NLRA imposes a duty on the employer as well as the union to engage in good faith collective bargaining regarding the future terms and conditions of employment. Collective bargaining occurs when an employer and unionized employees meet and negotiate regarding the terms and conditions of employment in the business.

When the employer and the union conclude their negotiations, a collective bargaining agreement is created. This agreement is binding on both the employer and the employees.

The agreement determines pay scales as well as other terms of employment. In order to meet the requirement to negotiate in good faith, employers and unions are required to:

  • Make their best efforts to agree to an effective bargaining process;
  • Meet with the other party and consider as well as respond to proposals that are made;
  • Respect the roles of the representatives for each of the parties and to refrain from attempting to bargain directly with those for whom the representative acts; and
  • Take no actions that would undermine the bargaining process or authority of the other party’s representative.

Good-faith collective bargaining does not require any of the parties to make concessions or agree to any proposals. It only requires that the employer and the union meet and negotiate at a reasonable time with a willingness to agree on issues within the scope of representation.

The NLRA regulations what activities a union is permitted to use in order to persuade their employer to agree to the terms and conditions, including:

  • Strikes;
  • Lock-outs; and
  • Picketing.

What Happens When a Collective Bargaining Agreement Expires?

When an existing collective bargaining agreement expires prior to the parties agreeing to a new one, the old agreement will continue in force until a new agreement can be made and come into effect. In order to take effect, the members of the union must vote on the agreement and a majority must accept it.

Collective bargaining agreements can be renewed if the parties desire to do so. In this situation, the existing agreement would be submitted to the membership for a vote.

If the majority of the members agree to the agreement, it would take effect. If the membership rejected the agreement, the agreement would have to be renegotiated.

Collective bargaining agreements may cover all of the terms and conditions of employment, including:

  • Wages;
  • Overtime pay;
  • Whether paid vacation days will be available and in what amount;
  • Whether paid sick leave will be available and in what amount;
  • What benefits are available to workers; and
  • Other issues.

What is the National Hockey League Players Association?

Similar to other major professional sports, the National Hockey League (NHL) has its own players union. This union is called the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA).

The NHLPA originated in 1967 when player representatives of the original 6 NHL clubs organized a union for its players.

What Does the NHLPA do?

The NHLPA has numerous responsibilities, including:

  • Negotiating the terms of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) between the NHL and its players;
  • Providing a full range of services, including assisting players with:
    • filing disability;
    • medical and dental claims; and
    • obtaining disability insurance coverage;
  • Certifying, regulating and educating player agents;
  • Licensing NHL products; and
  • Supporting charitable organizations that want to use player endorsements for fundraising.

In addition to these responsibilities, the NHLPA provides services to players, including:

  • Recognizing achievements of players for longevity and achievement with Milestone Awards;
  • Providing an alumni association for ex-NHL players;
  • Providing ongoing assistance off the rink for the health of players and their family; and
  • Counseling options for substance abuse.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to the National Hockey League or the NHLPA, it may be helpful to consult with an entertainment lawyer. If you have a dispute with the NHL or with the NHLPA, it may be helpful to consult with a sports lawyer.