unfair labor practices (ULPs)

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Unfair Labor Practices: An Overview

Unfair labor practices (ULPs) refer to actions taken by employers or labor organizations that violate the rights of employees or employers as defined by various labor laws. These practices, prohibited under various labor relations statutes (including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)) and can undermine the fair and equitable treatment of workers and disrupt the balance of power between employers and employees in the workplace.

Under the NLRA, ULPs are categorized under Section 8 of the Act, or Title 29 of the U.S. Code, Section 158, which defines specific prohibited behaviors for employers, and labor organizations. 

Unfair Labor Practices by Employers

When an employer interferes with employee rights to organize, form, join, or assist a labor organization, it violates the NLRA. Specific prohibitions include:

Section 158(a)(1): Prohibits interference, restraint, or coercion of employees engaging in concerted activities.

  • Section 158(a)(2): Prohibits employer domination or assistance of a labor union.
  • Section 158(a)(3): Prohibits discrimination against employees due to union activities.
  • Section 158(a)(4): Prohibits retaliation against employees for filing charges or giving testimony under the NLRA.
  • Section 158(a)(5): Requires employers to bargain collectively in good faith with the union.

When an employer hinders employees from bargaining collectively, engaging in other concerted activities for mutual aid or protection, or keeps the employee from exercising the right not to participate in any of these activities, the employer has violated the NLRA. By the same token, if an employer threatens to take away an employee’s job or benefits if that person should join or vote for a union, the employer will be found in violation of the NLRA as well.

Unfair Labor Practices by Labor Organizations

Labor organizations are also restricted under the NLRA. Specific prohibitions include:

  • Section 158(b)(1): Prohibits unions from restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights, such as the right to refrain from concerted activity.
  • Section 158(b)(2): Prohibits unions from causing an employer to discriminate in violation of Section 8(a)(3).
  • Section 158(b)(3): Requires unions to bargain in good faith with the employer.

Labor unions are prohibited from restraining and coercing employers when the employee is exercising their rights. This prohibition does not impair the rights of a labor organization to prescribe its own rules concerning membership in the labor organization. Making or enforcing illegal union security agreements or hiring agreements which are made as a condition of employment membership in a union violates the NLRA. Even conduct that does not actually restrain or coerce employees but is reasonably calculated to do so is prohibited.

Remedies for Unfair Labor Practices

If an employer or a union is found to have committed ULP, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must order the guilty party to cease and desist from the illegal behavior. Remedies for affected employees may include reinstatement, payment of lost wages and benefits, and seniority credits. The NLRB also frequently requires parties guilty of ULPs to post notices informing workers of the Board’s decision. Compensation does not cover indirect losses such as the inability to make car or home payments due to lost wages.

See also: National Labor Relations Board - Guidance on the National Labor Relations Act

[Last updated in July of 2024 by the Wex Definitions Team