Changing Union Labor Laws and Their Effects on Union-Free Employers

U.S. Labor Laws and Union-Free Employers

Keeping up with changes to labor and employment law can seem overwhelming for anyone without a law degree. We’ve seen more legal and policy changes that require our attention recently than we had in the last four decades.  The new U.S. labor laws can often seem biased against employers, and it’s easy to feel that these regulatory agencies are trying to force even great employers to accept the added expense and mandates of union representation.

Succeeding as a business means you’ve got to work to forge a relationship with employees that creates an engaged and productive workforce, despite the hurdles the Department Of Labor and the NLRB have placed in front of you. You may wonder how you can succeed as a union-free business and maintain a great relationship with your workers. Learning more about the latest U.S. labor laws and their regulations, as well as keeping up to date with current labor union news, can help your company stay union-free.

Up-to-Date Changes in Union Labor Laws

Some recent changes to U.S. labor union laws include:

  • You can’t restrict your workers from discussing a union or their benefits during their off-the-clock hours, such as during their lunch periods. You can’t even prevent this verbal discussion if it appears to annoy their co-workers.
  • If you hire temporary employees or direct hires from a staffing agency that is unionized, these employees can legally ask for higher wages, better benefits, and other perks from your company. This type of “bargaining” falls under the new law regarding joint employer relationships.
  • Overtime rules from the Department of Labor mean employees can now demand a pay raise or enjoy overtime protection because their employers must be willing to pay overtime or increase their pay rate to $913 per week (21 states sued over this mandate).
  • Unionized employers no longer have the right to independently make decisions without offering the choice to bargain with the union, due to new limitations on Management Rights Clauses.
  • In 2014, the NLRB implemented a  Rule that tilted the scales of a union election in labor’s favor by expediting the election process. This was recently updated to state that an election can only take place 20 calendar days after the Regional Director’s direction of election.

For these, and many more reasons, we highly recommend consulting legal counsel before making any decisions regarding your strategy to remain union-free.

How to Stay Union-Free as Laws Continue To Change

One of the ways you can protect your business is to stay up to date on all labor union news. And then, as things change, make it a point to update your employee handbook annually with all new U.S. labor laws. Have it reviewed by your labor attorney. Don’t use what the NLRB calls “chilling” language (referring to employees’ Section 7 Rights), or language that prohibits your employees from discussing the union with other co-workers when clocked out, yet still at the job site. These times include lunchtime and breaks – if they clock out.

Before hiring temporary employees or direct hires, ask the staffing agency if those workers are unionized. Armed with that knowledge, you can search elsewhere for qualified temporary staff who won’t demand more pay or benefits than your permanent workers.

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Make sure your handbook includes an overtime policy that discourages employees from working more than 40 hours a week. More than 40, and they must get administrative approval before working the extra hours. Clarify in the policy that this includes reading reports, emails, or other work-related activities at home or in another non-work environment. Otherwise, you may find that you have to hire more workers to get the job done adequately or raise the costs of your products or services. This new standard is specially injurious to small companies or those classified as “mid-sized.”

Although these new U.S. labor laws outlined above are making it more and more difficult to keep unions out of your business, your best approach is constantly to work to become an employer of choice; a company where engaged and productive employees experience a high level of contentment and satisfaction. This effort has become as vital to the health of your business as monitoring the bottom line and now needs constant attention. Educate yourself and your team on all U.S. labor laws and employ smart legal counsel to help you abide by these regulations.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.

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