How to Manage an Unfair Labor Practice (Particularly During Union Organizing)

In this economy, companies are doing all they can to stay afloat. That sometimes means making tough decisions regarding employees, including layoffs. When a company is faced with a union organizing campaign, stress can escalate quickly. This blog post will discuss how to manage a ULP (unfair labor practice) and offers some tips for handling an organizing campaign. 

What is a ULP and What Are its Key Elements

When unions or employers take actions that are illegal according to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), there can be hefty consequences to pay. These unlawful actions are called Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) and are often used by these entities as scare tactics to get the desired action they want from employees. Whether it's a union threatening an employer with unfair labor practices in the hopes they'll recognize the union voluntarily, or an employer discouraging union organizing by way of discriminatory practices, unions and employers have used ULPs to tip the process of union organization and matters in their favor. Learning to manage a ULP well is not only necessary, it's vital to the outcome of the entire process.

Know The Process of Unfair Labor Practices

If an employee or labor union believes your organization is has committed a practice that violates labor laws under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, they have the right to file a charge. The process involves filing a complaint with the ULP charges in the NLRB Regional Office where the incident took place or is occurring. But those who file charges need to do so typically within six months. The NLRB Regional Office (RO) dockets the file, assigns a case number and creates a case file, which includes the case log, affidavits and final investigation report.

The RO also evaluates the allegations and reviews the charges by taking several steps, including reviewing the sufficiency of the charge and whether the case requires further clarification of the unfair labor practice charges. Additionally, the RO also takes several factors into consideration before recommending the case for remedy, such as the presence of consistent communication via email or in writing. If all requirements are met, the case may proceed for recommendation for injunctions or temporary relief, such as in the case of unilateral reorganization.

Liability Also Extends to Unions

Employers are not the only entities that can be found guilty of ULPs. Unions can face this same fate, too. For example, unions may use ULPs as a tactic in the course of waging a corporate campaign. In fact, the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) was found guilty of disparaging and defaming the Professional Janitorial Service of Houston, Inc. (PJS). The union spread information in the local area claiming the company violated the rights of its workers and even filed a class action lawsuit against PJS claiming it violated federal wage laws after PJS required SEIU to hold a secret ballot election in order to represent the company's workers. This violation cost the SEIU $5 million. While unions may be charged, they often use unfair labor practices to manipulate, frighten and control companies in union organizing campaigns. Auto manufacturer Nissan faced ULP charges by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which the UAW used in effort to organize. Yet, the fear of change and wages close to current union workers' wages resulted in Nissan workers voting against the union organizing efforts of the UAW.

Manage an Unfair Labor Practice

Communication Is Key

If you receive an unfair labor practice charge, communication is key. This is because employees need to be able to share information about their experiences and concerns with their coworkers in order to build a strong case against the unfair practices. Additionally, effective communication can help to rally employees and build solidarity within the workforce. Furthermore, it is essential for employees to be able to communicate their needs to management in order to negotiate for fair treatment. Therefore, communication is a vital tool that should not be overlooked during an unfair labor practice campaign.

Stay Calm

If you're involved in an unfair labor practice campaign, it's important to stay calm and focused. The campaign can be stressful, but it's important to remember that you're fighting for a worthwhile cause. Here are some tips for staying calm and focused: 

  1. Keep your goals in mind. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day details of the campaign, but it's important to keep your long-term goals in mind. A more connected workplace where employees feel understood, heard, safe, and appreciated is always the most important objective.
  2. Stay organized. An unfair labor practice campaign can involve a lot of moving parts. Staying organized will help you keep track of everything and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Designate a person or team to keep documentation and organized file-keeping of all necessary aspects of the campaign. 
  3. Seek support from others. Being part of an unfair labor practice campaign can be isolating, so it's important to seek support from others who are involved in the campaign or who understand what you're going through. Talking to a labor professional or labor attorney, someone who has been through this before, can be extremely invaluable at this time.


During an unfair labor practice campaign, you'll need to give a detailed statement to the National Labor Relations Board and may require witnesses and documents to help your case. It's important to cooperate with the NLRB and avoid retaliating. Your responsibilities as a charged party involve communicating appropriately with the National Labor Relations Board. This includes participating in an investigation held over the phone. You can also evaluate requests for affidavits and submit evidence via fax.

Legal Counsel

It's crucial to use experienced legal counsel to help in your defense and investigation of your unfair labor practice case so you can correctly conduct interviews of employees and submit your position statement. You have the option to use the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to resolve your unfair labor practice case. The ADR ensures you understand the Statute and compliance requirements. It also helps with resolving ULP matters without litigation.

If legal counsel is not immediately available, ensure you have a labor relations specialist on your staff who can help bridge the gap between you and the challenge ahead. If you have not done so yet, hire a labor relations specialist and begin training them on your companies policies and procedures. There are endless benefits from having a labor relations specialist on your staff, including assurance that should a ULP come around, you'll be even more prepared. 

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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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