The duty of fair representation requires the union to represent all employees fairly and nondiscriminatory. Employees will sometimes use this clause to challenge the union leadership’s decisions or the contract itself.
In most collective bargaining agreements, job and union security are the main issues for the employees, while the employers are concerned with freedom from labor strikes and slowdowns. Other topics often included are seniority, benefits, employment classifications, and the role of arbitration in solving disputes. Often the agreements will allow for midterm bargaining over certain issues not settled or subject to unforeseeable change.
Unfair labor practices may include activities that attempt to control or influence the union, interfere with, or restrain union affairs. It is also unfair for employers to promise an increase or reduction of benefits to influence the outcome of an election.
The union’s shop steward—elected by the members—is the intermediary between the union and the employer. The steward may collect dues, recruit new members, and be the first line of representation when an unfair labor practice complaint has been raised.
The NLRA permits certain strikes and lockouts as a legitimate form of protest. During a strike, the members do not work. Instead, they often gather outside the employer’s place of business, carrying signs about the nature of the strike and chanting slogans to draw attention to the striker’s demands and to discourage others from supporting the employer’s business.
Strikes may be called for economic reasons or because of an unfair labor practice. As long as they are legal, the striking workers are considered employees. Once the strike is over, the strikers have a right to reinstatement, provided they offer an unconditional return to work. If the strike was for economic reasons and the employer replaced the strikers, then they do not have a right to immediately return to work. Workers out on an unfair labor private strike have a right to return immediately, even if the employer has hired replacement workers.
An employer may impose a lockout on employees. During a lockout, the employer either closes shop, thereby preventing employees from working, or brings in replacement workers. An employer must engage in negotiations with the union during a lockout. Strikes that are not authorized by the union are called wildcat strikes and are illegal.
Many collective bargaining agreements contain clauses that prevent strikes and lockouts. They use the grievance process to resolve disputes.
The Taft-Hartley Act was enacted in 1947 in response to perceived excesses by the unions. The act defines labor practices as unfair when the union refuses to bargain or coerces employees to join the union and charges members discriminatory dues and entrance fees. It also allows states to establish right-to-work laws, meaning individual workers in a unionized shop are not required to join the union. Despite their nonparticipation in the union, the union must still represent these workers as part of the bargaining unit.
If a state is not a right-to-work state, then it is permissible for a collective bargaining agreement to contain a union security clause, meaning all workers in the shop must join the union.
The Landrum-Griffith Act, also known as the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, established basic procedures for unions to follow to ensure democratic and fair elections and to provide individual union members with a bill of rights. The act also safeguards union funds, prohibiting use of union funds for anything other than those expenses benefitting the union or its members. Funds cannot be used to support candidates for union office and union officials. Stealing and embezzling union funds was also made a federal crime.