Many practicing lawyers are fully aware that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), originally enacted in 1935 and significantly modified in 1947 and 1959, governs private-sector labor relations in the United States. If you ask a non-labor-law practitioner (or an observer in the general public) what the term “labor relations” means, however, you will likely be met with the sensible but incomplete response that it means dealings or negotiations between employers and unions. A careful reading of section 7 of the NLRA, however, reveals that the rights enumerated in the provision belong to all employees, not to unions and not exclusively to union-represented employees. Ultimately, union rights under the NLRA are derivative of employee rights. Thus, any employee has “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of [his or her] own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” While employees may use this bundle of rights to participate in union activities, or not, the scope of the provision reaches out more broadly to cover nonunion employees who “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of . . . other mutual aid or protection.” Employers “interfering with, restraining, or coercing” nonunion employees in the exercise of these rights violate section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA.
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