The National Labor Relations Act ("N.L.R.A.") is a federal law that provides workers (especially those represented by unions) with certain important rights. These legal rights are made even more potent in combination with the contractual rights and enforcement machinery (grievance and arbitration procedure) provided in our Industry-Wide Agreement. All union members should immediately report any violations of the union contract or of the N.L.R.A. to one of their union representatives. The following is a brief summary of your most important rights under the N.L.R.A.:
Under the N.L.R.A., workers have the right to join unions, and to exercise collective power through united action to obtain, in a binding contract, better wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other important rights from their employer.
The N.L.R.A. gives workers who organize a union the legal right to "bargain collectively." Once the workers have legally designated a union as their collective bargaining representative, the employer is required to recognize the union and bargain with it "in good faith" regarding any terms and conditions of employment that affect the represented employees. This obligation to "bargain in good faith" does not mean the employer is required to agree to any particular contract demands made by the union, but it does impose many important practical obligations on the employer which help the union to win a contract and which benefit the workers in other ways as well (as described below).
Most of our grievance rights come from our union contract, not from laws like the N.L.R.A.. For example, our Industry-Wide Agreement gives the union very broad power to challenge practically any unfair action taken by the employer. It gives the Office of the Impartial Chairperson of the Hotel Industry (the arbitrator authorized by the Industry-Wide Agreement) the legal authority to impose on the employer a fair resolution of the union's grievances. The grievance rights we enjoy under the Industry-Wide Agreement may even be the strongest found in any union contract. They go far beyond any rights workers have under the law alone. However, the N.L.R.A. does give certain basic grievance rights to workers who are represented by a union, even if the union does not yet have a signed contract with the employer. The employer's obligation, under the N.L.R.A., to bargain with the union "in good faith" doesn't just apply to contract negotiations. It also applies to grievances. This means that the union has the right to raise grievances with the employer on behalf of the workers, and management is required by law to negotiate with the union in order to resolve each grievance, in good faith. If the employer fails to negotiate with the union in good faith, the union can bring charges against the employer with the federal government. Workers who do not have a union contract, an individual employment contract, or union representation have no grievance rights.
Under the N.L.R.A., as part of its obligation to negotiate with the union "in good faith," the employer is required to provide the union with relevant information it needs to perform its representational duties. This requirment includes not only information the union needs during formal contract negotiations, but also any relevant information it might need in the preparation of a grievance, or even simply in determining whether or not to raise a grievance. This right (which non-union workers do not have) is extremely important, and is routinely used by our union in many situations. It allows the union to investigate allegations against employees accused of wrongdoing, and to prepare an effective defense on their behalf. It gives the union the ability to challenge assertions by management during contract negoatiations (such as claims that it cannot afford higher wages or better benefits). It also makes it posssible to investigate and correct many different types of violations of the rights of employees (such as improper payment of wages, or unsafe working conditions). Our Industry-Wide Agreement expands and strengthens this right to information by allowing us to use arbitration to enforce and speed up compliance by employers with requests for information. The IWA also gives us enhanced rights to relevant information. One example of this is Article 66, which requires the employer to provide information (such as payroll records, schedules, time sheets, etc.) in "searchable electronic form and format," greatly facilitating the union's ability to investigate contract violations by the employer.
Under the N.L.R.A., it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to recognize the legally authorized "collective bargaining representative" (i.e., union) of its employees. It is also unlawful for the employer to refuse to deal with, or to attempt to control, the persons chosen by the union as its designated representatives. This means that the employer has no say over who represents the workers (e.g., business agents, delegates, assistant delegates, or other union representatives). Under the N.L.R.A., employees who are represented by a union have the right (known as "Weingarten Rights') to insist that a union representative be present, both as a witness, and an advisor, during disciplinary interogations. Workers covered under our Industry-Wide Agreement have even more expansive protections, including: the right to have a union representative present in any meeting relating to a grievance, potential grievance, or disciplinary situation; the right to meet with union representatives in the shop; and the right to have their union representatives visit the shop to enforce the contract and communicate with the workers. It is unlawful for the employer to harass, intimidate, threaten or retaliate against employees for raising grievances or exercising their right to be represented by the union, or for acting as union representatives themselves.
The Legal Status of Union Delegates
Under the N.L.R.A. and our Industry-Wide Agreement, when employees are acting in the role of union representatives (as union delegates or assistant delegates, for example), they are considered equals with management. This means they have the right, when dealing with managers in their representational role (in grievance meetings, for example), to argue with the manager strenuously, to address the manager by his or her first name, to interrupt the manager, to question the manager, to challenge any factual claims made by the manager, etc.. In fact, the delegate or assistant delegate is even permitted to engage in heated debate and to use strong language with the manager when acting in his or her representatonal role (e.g., in grievance meetings). It is unlawful for a manager to discipline an employee, acting in the capacity of union representative, for such behavior. However, the union expects its delegates and assistant delegates to behave professionally when they are representing the union, and obviously they should exercise discretion and good judgment. Behavior such as the use of extreme unprovoked profanity, racial or sexist epithets, physical threats, or other such outrageous conduct is not permitted. Under our Industry-Wide Agreement, union delegates and assistant delegates are afforded even more extensive protection. For example delegates and assistant delegates have superseniority (i.e., top seniority) for the purposes of temporary layoffs (but not for choosing schedules or in the event of permanent layoffs). Also, delegates and assistant delegates, who are being terminated or suspended, are allowed to stay on the job (except in the case of certain serious offenses) until their case has been heard in arbitration. These provisions are for the purpose of ensuring the delegates' ability to represent the workers zealously.
Protection Against Unilateral Changes
The employer's legal obligation under the N.L.R.A. to negotiate in good faith with the union also means that the employer is not permitted to "unilateraly" change the terms and conditions of employment of workers represented by the union. This means that the employer must notify the union in advance about, and negotiate over, such changes before implementing them, and it is unlawful for the employer to put the proposed changes into effect until the parties have either resolved any dispute about the changes, or reached a legal impasse in negotiations.
The following are a few examples of areas in which the employer may not implement changes without first notifying, and negotiating with, the union:
It should be noted that a number of such subjects have already been negotiated by the parties, resolved and addressed in the Industry-Wide Agreement itself. For example, the parties have already agreed that existing fringe benefits shall not be eliminated. Note: Employers have virtually the unrestricted right to change the conditions of employment of any of their non-union employees.
Protection Against Retaliation, Threats, and Spying
Under the N.L.R.A., it is unlawful for employers to use threats of any kind (including implied threats), punishment, interrogation, or spying to prevent, discourage, or interfere with the exercise of any of these rights.
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