Workers in New Jersey and across the U.S. are protected under labor laws. Labor laws cover the employer-employee relationship when employees organize or unionize to collectively negotiate the terms of their employment. Labor laws are types of employment laws, and labor attorneys represent employees, unions, or employers during and after the collective bargaining process. Here is some information about labor laws and what labor attorneys do from the lawyers at Swartz Swidler.
The National Labor Relations Act
The National Labor Relations Act or NLRA was passed in 1935 and created the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRA was passed to encourage collective bargaining, prevent harmful labor practices, and protect the rights of employees and employers. The NLRB is the agency tasked with enforcing the NLRA. When it receives complaints of violations of the NLRA, the NLRB can investigate, prosecute violators, and issue sanctions. NLRB offices are located across the U.S.
Right to Unionize
Employees have the right to organize and can vote to join a union. The process of deciding whether to unionize is democratic. If a majority of employees vote to form a union, they can do so. The employer is required to negotiate in good faith with a union that forms. The process of negotiating is overseen by the NLRB to ensure that both the unionized employees and the employer act in good faith with a real intent to reach an agreement.
Union delegates can be elected and then elect union leaders. In some cases, the employees directly elect the leaders. Union leaders owe a fiduciary duty to honestly and fairly manage funds. If union leaders embezzle funds from a union, they can face criminal prosecution.
When a union forms, it will typically be required to file its bylaws with the Secretary of Labor. Many unions also post their bylaws on the internet. Union members have the right to vote, attend meetings, and speak, including the right to vote about whether union fees should be increased.
Unions can engage in collective action, including bargaining with the employer about wages, benefits, notices before layoffs, procedures for dispute resolution, and requiring termination for cause instead of at will. Unions are not allowed to demand that they share in the governance of a corporation or to have a seat on its board.
What Does a Labor Lawyer Do?
Labor laws are complex. In addition to federal laws, many states also have state-specific labor laws in place. A labor attorney understands the various state and federal labor laws and might represent employees or employers in negotiations and disputes. Labor attorneys might represent members of unions in disputes with employers or employers in disputes with unions. They have to understand whether to apply state law, federal law, or both in a given situation and must understand precedential cases to ensure that the decision will be relevant and binding in a specific case.
Labor lawyers also must understand that union disputes frequently must follow specific procedures. An aggrieved member of a union will normally be required to file a demand before he or she will be allowed to pursue a formal legal claim. Depending on the union and applicable laws, an aggrieved union member might have to wait for a few months before being allowed to file a formal action. In many cases, labor lawyers will negotiate on behalf of their clients and represent them in arbitration proceedings. Understanding the procedural rules and complying with them is critical so that the attorney’s clients can successfully navigate the process.
While many labor disputes are resolved through negotiations or alternate dispute resolution procedures like arbitration, some are litigated through the formal court process. Union agreements are contracts that are legally enforceable in court. In some cases, a labor attorney might litigate labor issues in court. To do so, they must draft and file formal complaints and understand the rules of civil procedure and evidence to effectively argue on behalf of their clients.
Like other laws, labor laws frequently change. Unions in the U.S. are smaller and more limited than those in other countries. Unions and corporations use lobbyists to advocate with lawmakers to try to secure changes in the labor laws. Some labor attorneys lobby legislators to try to help them understand their clients’ positions and consider changes at the state or national level.
Other Types of Employment Laws
Labor laws are a subset of employment laws. Some labor attorneys also practice in other areas of the employment laws that cover all aspects of the employer-employment relationship. Other employment laws prohibit discrimination based on employees’ protected characteristics, establish workplace safety regulations and rules, mandate wage and hour rules, and deal with other aspects of employment. Labor attorneys must also understand these laws when they work to represent unions or employers.
Labor attorneys might work on behalf of a union, for a corporation, or work in private practice. Some labor lawyers also work for the NLRB. Labor lawyers who are employed by the NLRB help to oversee the process of unionization and prosecute parties that violate the labor laws. Some labor attorneys work as administrative law judges to adjudicate violations and issue sanctions.
Tasks Performed by Labor Attorneys
Labor attorneys perform many different services to employers and employees. Some of the types of tasks that a labor attorney might complete include the following:
- Explaining client rights, procedural rules, and applicable deadlines
- Negotiating on behalf of a union or employer
- Helping employers to remain compliant with the applicable laws
- Drafting demand letters
- Representing clients at arbitration or in court
- Filing civil complaints
- Litigating on behalf of their clients
- Helping with other employment-related legal issues
Consult a Labor Attorney
If you have questions about the labor laws and your rights, you should speak to an experienced labor attorney at Swartz Swidler. Contact us today at (856) 685-7420 to request a free consultation.