National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the rights of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers through representatives of their own choosing. The NLRA establishes a secret ballot election procedure by which employees can designate a union to serve as their collective bargaining agent to establish the terms and conditions of their employment. The NLRA further defines and prohibits certain “unfair labor practices” that interfere with the rights of employees and employers. The law is administered and enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRA does not directly impact workplace flexibility. Yet many of the issues regarding flexible workplaces intersect – in some way – with the NLRA. For example, to be a member of a collective bargaining unit, an individual must be an “employee” as defined in the statute. Yet many individuals seeking flexibility have non-traditional work arrangements. They may be part time employees, independent contractors, contract employees, temporary employees, or seasonal workers. Many of these individuals do not meet the definition of “employee” under the NLRA and thus are not entitled to be part of a collective bargaining unit, even where the workplace is unionized.

Another issue arising under the NLRA is the extent to which employers may organize employer/employee committees. Such committees are used to gather information and feedback, and they often make recommendations on a wide range of issues, including, for example, flexible scheduling. There is some question as to whether such committees fall within the NLRA’s definition of “labor organization.” If they do, they must comply with NLRA requirements, even in a non-unionized setting. The purpose of this provision of the law is to prohibit an employer-dominated labor organization that could impede the adoption of an alternative labor organization by a vote of the employees.

Finally, long before businesses routinely offered flexible work options to non-unionized workers, unions were securing such options (e.g., flexible schedules and paid leave) for their members through the collective bargaining process. Unions continue to include such issues in their collective bargaining agreements. Thus, to the extent that it protects and preserves the collective bargaining process, the NLRA promotes the flexible work options that result from that process.

Further Information

Documents prepared by Workplace Flexibility 2010: