Labor Union Basics Toolkit

A Toolkit containing resources to help employers comply with legal requirements of federal labor relations laws including primarily the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). 

Practical Law Labor & Employment

In the private sector, labor relations, including relations with unions ( , is principally governed by the National Labor Relations Act ( (NLRA). The NLRA covers virtually all private sector employers. In contrast, the Railway Labor Act ( (RLA), covers rail and air carriers and certain enterprises owned or under the control of those carriers.

The National Labor Relations Board ( (NLRB) issue decisions that set employers' obligations under the NLRA in both unionized and nonunionized workplaces. The NLRB also periodically uses the agency rulemaking process to change its procedures. Most notably, it recently changed its procedures for union representation elections (see Preparing for Amendments to the NLRB Union Election Process Checklist ( ).

This Toolkit provides resources to assist employers comply with these three areas of highly nuanced law:

Avoiding Interference with Employee Rights Under the NLRA

One of the central purposes of the NLRA is to ensure private sector employees can engage in protected concerted activity ( , which includes employees discussing and attempting to improve terms and conditions of their employment, with or without unions. Employees or their unions can enforce their rights under the NLRA by filing unfair labor practice ( (ULP) charges with the NLRB.

In the fiscal year that ended in September 2015, the NLRB:

  • Received 20,199 ULP charges (with each possibly involving multiple claims affecting multiple employees).

  • Recovered $95,914,888 for employees in back pay and reimbursements.

  • Obtained reinstatement for 2,109 employees.

(See NLRB FY 2015 Performance and Accountability Report, pp. 18 and 36 (Oct. 13, 2015).)

When investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating these numerous ULP charges, the NLRB has taken an expansive view of what activities are protected under the NLRA. In addition the NLRB engages in extensive outreach in the US and abroad to inform workers of their prospective NLRA rights. For analysis of each of these developments, see the Legal Updates Archive in the Unions Subtopic.

In light of these developments, whether unionized or not, employers must:

  • Understand the scope of employees' rights under the NLRA.

  • Avoid disciplining employees for engaging in protected concerted activity.

  • Ensure that their employment policies do not interfere with these rights.

  • Prepare for an increased number of ULP charges and complaints.

In addition to the resources below, for information about designing employment policies to comply with the NLRA, see Practice Note, Employee Handbooks: Best Practices: Compliance with the National Labor Relations Act ( .

Lawfully Responding to Union Organizing and Election Campaigns

Another purpose of the NLRA is to permit employees to support or refrain from supporting a union. The NLRB has procedures for secret ballot elections to allow employees to vote for or against union representation and determines whether employees have sufficiently similar jobs and interests to comprise an appropriate bargaining unit ( .

Employers should understand how:

  • Unions organize.

  • The NLRB union election process works.

  • To lawfully respond to union organizing or a union election.

  • To develop a plan for responding to union organizing or an election petition.

Engaging in Good Faith Collective Bargaining

The NLRA also regulates how employers and unions negotiate collective bargaining agreements ( (CBA) (the agreements setting out the terms and conditions of union members' employment). The law governing collective bargaining ( is highly nuanced and employers must understand:

  • Under what circumstances they must bargain.

  • Requirements for bargaining in good faith.

  • How to prepare for and lawfully undertake negotiations with unions.

Practice Notes

Standard Documents

Standard Clauses




{ "siteName" : "PLC", "objType" : "PLC_Doc_C", "objID" : "1247622566227", "objName" : "ACT_OWNED - READ_ONLY - 1-519-1211", "userID" : "2", "objUrl" : "", "pageType" : "Resource", "academicUserID" : "", "contentAccessed" : "true", "analyticsPermCookie" : "22e97be00:15afeebc967:-361a", "analyticsSessionCookie" : "22e97be00:15afeebc967:-3619", "statisticSensorPath" : "" }