Labor disputes occur when conflict arises between an employer and a group of its employees over issues such as wages, hours, benefits, and work conditions. Labor disputes are often resolved through collective bargaining and arbitration. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is the federal law which covers labor disputes and the right to unionize. State, local and other laws apply in some cases.
Collective bargaining helps level the playing field for employees. By banding together in a labor organization, or union, employees have more power in negotiating with an employer or seeking enforcement of an existing agreement, than a single employee who tries to take on the company alone.
Collective bargaining is used to establish and agreement on working conditions such as:
- Work hours
- Wages or salary
- Safety conditions
- Vacation time
- Grievance procedures
The goal is to reach a collective bargaining agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached the labor dispute can escalate to a strike or lockout.
National Labor Relations Act
NLRA protects employees’ right to form or join a union as well as their right to choose not to form or participate in a union. NRLA applies to most types of employees. Exceptions include:
- Agricultural workers
- Domestic workers
- Railway employees
- Airline employees
- Government employees (except Postal Workers)
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enforces the NLRA. Many types of employees who are not covered by NLRA are protected by other agencies. For instance, federal employees are covered by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, and airline and railway employees are protected by the National Mediation Board.
Lawful strikes are protected under NLRA, but the right to strike is not a free-for-all, and depending on the nature of the strike, your employer may be allowed to replace you.
Workers who strike in protest of unfair labor practices cannot be fired and must be reinstated after the strike, as long as they did not participate in serious misconduct such as acts of violence. “Sit-down” strikes, in which employees refuse to work but remain on the premises in a manner that deprives the employer of its property, are not protected under NLRA.
And, while a strike in violation of a no-strike contract is generally not protected, walk-outs due to unreasonably dangerous conditions are not considered a violation of a no-strike provision.