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What You Need to Know About Your Right to Unionize

Unions' position in America has changed drastically over the last few generations. Large swaths of our population used to work in industries like manufacturing and many of those industries were unionized. Then companies began outsourcing jobs to other countries, and more and more Americans found themselves in service industry positions that often are non-union positions. Only you can know whether a union is right for you, but if you think it may be and you are not currently a union member, you need to understand what your legal rights are when it comes to unionizing.

Unions’ position in America has changed drastically over the last few generations. Large swaths of our population used to work in industries like manufacturing and many of those industries were unionized. Then companies began outsourcing jobs to other countries, and more and more Americans found themselves in service industry positions that often are non-union positions. Only you can know whether a union is right for you, but if you think it may be and you are not currently a union member, you need to understand what your legal rights are when it comes to unionizing.

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(Photo Credit: ajehals/Flickr)

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The National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that gives most employees the right to create, join, and participate in a union without being punished by their employers. The original version of this law was passed 80 years ago in 1935 in order to protect employees and to encourage collective bargaining. Sections 7 and 8 of the law are the ones that explain what your rights are and what the legal limitations are on your employer’s behavior.

What are Your Rights?

Section 7 is the portion of the NLRA that gives employees certain legal rights. These rights include the following:

  • You have the right to display pro-union sentiments on the job. This can include things like wearing items like hats or pins with pro-union messages.
  • You have the right to discuss union membership and distribute union literature at work so long as you do it on non-work time in non-work areas. So for example, you could hold a meeting in the lunch room on your lunch break to make a pitch to your co-workers about why they should support a union. You could not, however, make a stump speech when you are on the clock in your work area.
  • You are allowed to sign a card asking your employer to recognize your union and bargain with it, and you are allowed to sign petitions or grievances regarding your work conditions. You can also encourage your co-workers to sign such petition or grievances.

What Can’t Your Employer Do to You?


Section 8 of the Act deals in part with what employers are not allowed to do to employees. This part of the act is generally considered to prevent employers from:

  • promising employees special benefits like raises if they oppose unionization efforts,
  • closing down a particular branch or transferring work from a branch in an effort to pressure employees not to unionize, and
  • threatening to or actually punishing employees if they support unionization.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you know someone who was retaliated against for engaging in union activity? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Daniel Kalish
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