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38.5 Summary and Exercises


Federal labor law is grounded in the National Labor Relations Act, which permits unions to organize and prohibits employers from engaging in unfair labor practices. Amendments to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), such as the Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Act, declare certain acts of unions and employees also to be unfair labor practices.

The National Labor Relations Board supervises union elections and decides in contested cases which union should serve as the exclusive bargaining unit, and it also investigates allegations of unfair labor practices and provides remedies in appropriate cases.

Once elected or certified, the union is the exclusive bargaining unit for the employees it represents. Because the employer is barred from interfering with employee communications when the union is organizing for an election, he may not prohibit employees from soliciting fellow employees on company property but may limit the hours or spaces in which this may be done. The election campaign itself is an intricate legal duel; rewards, threats, and misrepresentations that affect the election are unfair labor practices.

The basic policy of the labor laws is to foster good-faith collective bargaining over wages, hours, and working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may not compel agreement: it may not order the employer or the union to adopt particular provisions, but it may compel a recalcitrant company or union to bargain in the first place.

Among the unfair labor practices committed by employers are these:

  1. Discrimination against workers or prospective workers for belonging to or joining unions. Under federal law, the closed shop and preferential hiring are unlawful. Some states outlaw the union shop, the agency shop, and maintenance-of-membership agreements.
  2. Interference with strikes. Employers may hire replacement workers during a strike, but in a strike over an unfair labor practice, as opposed to an economic strike, the replacement workers may be temporary only; workers are entitled to their jobs back at the strike’s end.

Among the unfair labor practices committed by unions are these:

  1. Secondary boycotts. Workers may not picket employers not involved in the primary labor dispute.
  2. Hot cargo agreements. An employer’s agreement, under union pressure, to refrain from dealing with certain people or purchasing their products is unlawful.


  1. After years of working without a union, employees of Argenta Associates began organizing for a representation election. Management did not try to prevent the employees from passing out leaflets or making speeches on company property, but the company president did send out a notice to all employees stating that in his opinion, they would be better off without a union. A week before the election, he sent another notice, stating that effective immediately, each employee would be entitled to a twenty-five-cents-an-hour raise. The employees voted the union down. The following day, several employees began agitating for another election. This time management threatened to fire anyone who continued talking about an election on the ground that the union had lost and the employees would have to wait a year. The employees’ organizing committee filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB. What was the result?
  2. Palooka Industries sat down with Local 308, which represented its telephone operators, to discuss renewal of the collective bargaining agreement. Palooka pressed its case for a no-strike clause in the next contract, but Local 308 refused to discuss it at all. Exasperated, Palooka finally filed an unfair labor practice claim with the NLRB. What was the result?
  3. Union organizers sought to organize the punch press operators at Dan’s Machine Shop. The shop was located on a lot surrounded by heavily forested land from which access to employees was impossible. The only practical method of reaching employees on the site was in the company parking lot. When the organizers arrived to distribute handbills, the shop foreman, under instructions from Dan, ordered them to leave. At a hearing before the NLRB, the company said that it was not antiunion but that its policy, which it had always strictly adhered to, forbade nonemployees from being on the property if not on company business. Moreover, company policy barred any activities that would lead to littering. The company noted that the organizers could reach the employees in many other ways—meeting the employees personally in town after hours, calling them at home, writing them letters, or advertising a public meeting. The organizers responded that these methods were far less effective means of reaching the employees. What was the result? Why?

Self-Test Questions

  1. Which of the following is not a subject of mandatory bargaining?

    1. rate of pay per hour
    2. length of the workweek
    3. safety equipment
    4. new products to manufacture
  2. Under a union shop agreement,

    1. an employer may not hire a nonunion member
    2. an employer must hire a nonunion member
    3. an employee must join the union after being hired
    4. an employee must belong to the union before being hired
  3. Which of the following is always unlawful under federal law?

    1. union shop
    2. agency shop
    3. closed shop
    4. runaway shop
  4. An employer’s agreement with its union to refrain from dealing with companies being struck by other unions is a

    1. secondary boycott agreement
    2. hot cargo agreement
    3. lockout agreement
    4. maintenance-of-membership agreement
  5. Striking employees are entitled to their jobs back when they are engaged in

    1. economic strikes
    2. jurisdictional strikes
    3. both economic and jurisdictional strikes
    4. neither economic nor jurisdictional strikes

Self-Test Answers

  1. d
  2. c
  3. c
  4. b
  5. a