Workplace bullying is a trending topic nowadays, but a serious one. The definition of "workplace bullying" continues to evolve as more people witness it. Employment laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 don't specifically focus on workplace bullying like they do unlawful harassment and workplace discrimination. Thankfully, the Labor-Management Relations Act, a federal labor law that the U.S. National Labor Relations Board enforces, protects your rights in case a union member bullies or harasses you.
Concerted Activity Rights
In 1935, Democrats were the Congressional majority when it passed the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA guarantees employees' rights to engage in concerted activity, such as joining a union and supporting collective bargaining. The act is especially relevant because it preserves employees' freedom to select a union to represent their interests concerning pay, benefits, hours and working conditions. The act requires employers to toe the line -- it prohibits interference with workers' rights to concerted activity.
A little more than a decade later, and after some turbulent labor history events involving union intimidation and threats, another law gave employees the freedom to not support organized labor. Witnesses to labor unions' overt attempts to coerce workers' support wanted it to stop. So, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, or the Labor-Management Relations Act, in 1947. The LMRA balanced the rights of employees who refused to engage in concerted activity and protected them from union bullying. Under the LMRA, it's labor unions that are required to toe the line -- it bans such things as unlawful strikes and closed shops, which the members of the Republican-controlled 80th Congress believed were unfair and discriminatory. A closed shop means you have to join the union to keep your job.
Women in Unions
Around the same time the LMRA passed, women were a good percentage of union membership -- more than one-fifth of women made up the unionized workforce overall. In some jobs, women were the majority if they worked in traditional female occupations, such as garment workers who belonged to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. More than two-thirds of ACWA membership was female; about three-fourths for ILGWU. But overall union membership declined in the six-plus decades since, and women's union membership constitutes a sizable portion of that drop, according to a February 2013 report by the National Women's Law Center titled, "Women Overrepresented in Union Membership Decline." Union leaders are anxious to regain those numbers, especially as more women enter nontraditional fields, such as construction trades, where union membership is commonplace. Some union leaders may try to bully you to join their ranks. But, the LMRA still prohibits intimidation, and the National Labor Relations Board carries out its mission to enforce that law.
An NLRB agent will help you file an unfair labor practices charge against a labor union, when you believe the union is bullying you or violating your right to free choice not to engage in concerted activity. To file a formal complaint against a union, complete the NLRB Form 508, Charge Against Labor Organization or its Agents. You don't need to provide an extensive description. The board agent will review your information and determine the next step, which usually begins with the agent conducting an initial fact-finding interview. The NLRB and labor unions get plenty of practice investigating and responding to cases involving violations of employees' rights under the LMRA. The board reported that workers and employers filed more than 6,000 charges against labor unions during its 2010 fiscal year, and more than three-quarters of those charges had to do with coercion and intimidation.
- United States House of Representatives, History, Act & Archives: Congress Profiles
- George Mason University History News Network: How Did the Taft-Hartley Act Come About?
- The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America; Dorothy Sue Cobble
- National Women's Law Center: Women Overrepresented in Union Membership Decline
- UnionFacts.com: Unfair Labor Practices
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.