Massachusetts AFL-CIO

389 Main St.

Malden, MA 02148

781.324.8230

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Know Your Rights

Many of you are currently workers, will be workers one day, have friends and family that are workers, and you will find that work plays a huge part in your life. It's important to know that you have rights in the workplace and you have the right to organize. 

As a worker

You have labor rights that are meant to protect you and empower you to engage with your coworkers to improve your working conditions and solve issues in your workplace.

 

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act gives employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

 

This means that you have the right to:

  • Join, form, and support a union

  • Meet with your coworkers during non-working time to discuss organizing and forming a union

  • Talk with your coworkers about your working conditions and come up with a plan to address them through collective action, such as forming a union

 

And it makes it illegal for management to:

  • Threaten, fire, or coerce you for supporting the union or organizing with your co-workers

  • Ask you about or spy on your union activities

  • Require you to sign anything saying you will not join, form, or support a union

Scenario

You are working at a bookstore  the summer before you leave to college. Inside the bookstore is a cafe and you and your coworkers all get 50% off all drinks and food prepared by the cafe. One day, management decides to change this policy and you only get 25% off drinks and you have to pay full price for food. What would you do in this scenario?

 

Under the National Labor Relations Act, you have a few options. You can talk to your coworkers and see how they feel about the change. You might find that some of your coworkers feel very strongly about the change, while some care a little bit but it does not affect them, and others may be indifferent. You decide you want to return to the old policy so you go to management with a few of your coworkers and demand a change in the policy.

 

In this scenario, it may happen that management listens to you and returns to the original policy which can be beneficial for you and your coworkers in the short-term. Without a union, management could keep the same policy or make other changes without warning and without bargaining with you. To maintain long-term power in your workplace and to ensure you always have a strong voice in your workplace, you should talk to your coworkers about forming a union.

Without a union vs. with a union

Without a Union

  • You are an “at-will” employee and you can be disciplined or fired for any reason without warning

  • Management can change your working conditions at any moment

  • You do not have as much power to change your wages, so you have to find another job if you are unhappy

  • Your employer will often say they are there to listen to employee concerns and make create working groups to address issues in the workplace, but they have the ultimate say in any changes that occur

 

With a Union

  • You usually have “just cause” so you cannot be disciplined or fired without a good reason, and you have legal processes to address being disciplined or fired

  • Management cannot change your wages, benefits, or working conditions without bargaining with you

  • You can collectively organize with your coworkers to receive higher wages through contract negotiations

  • There are ways to address issues in the workplace such as grievances, committees, labor-management committee, and through protected concerted activity

Moral of the story: Unionize! 

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