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What actions employers can’t take when employees seek to unionize

On Behalf of | Dec 17, 2020 | Labor Law

Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint about activities by management at Google. The company, owned by Alphabet Inc., allegedly took actions to suppress and deter workers from unionizing. It also fired several employees in alleged retaliation for unionizing activities.

According to Reuters, Google’s workforce wants more input on issues like how sexual misconduct is investigated and which projects the company agrees to take on. The workers have been pressuring Google for more say for about two years.

The unionizing campaign came to a head when the workers partnered with the Communication Workers of America to petition the NLRB to take the tech giant on. Five workers were fired after attempting to rally colleagues to the cause.

Google insists that it has acted lawfully and said the workers were fired for breaching information security rules.

Can employers fire people for unionizing?

Under the federal National Labor Relations Act, workers have the right to organize collectively or join a union in order to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment. It is illegal to fire you, demote you, penalize you or discipline you in any way for attempting to form, join or assist a union.

A company also can’t take a negative job action against you, including firing you, on a pretext when the actual purpose was to suppress unionization efforts.

Your employer is prohibited from attempting to coerce you, threaten you or bribe you in regard to unionization activities. They cannot spy on you or give the appearance of doing so. They cannot coercively question you.

If you choose to engage in a unionizing effort, you have the right to:

  • Pass out union literature
  • Wear union t-shirts and buttons (except in limited “special circumstances”)
  • Discuss unionization with your coworkers
  • Solicit coworkers to sign union authorization cards

Your employer does have the right to insist that you work during work times. It can also have and enforce non-discriminatory rules that limit union solicitation during work hours.

According to the NLRB, if you are allowed to talk about other non-work-related topics during the workday, you must be allowed to talk about unionization.

Your employer cannot legally stop you from talking about unionization or soliciting union authorization cards during breaks or before or after work. You have the right to distribute union literature in non-work areas such as break rooms or the parking lot.

Protect yourself

Unionization and collective action work. That may be why so many employers find unionizing activities to be threatening. If you suspect your employer might take unlawful actions to suppress unionization activity at your workplace, talk to a labor law attorney.

At the present time, the NLRB is controlled by Republican Board members who have a pro-employer slant. When the Biden administration takes control in 2021, the NLRB is expected to act more favorably towards unions.