Unions in the United States

Legal Materials

The Directory of U.S. Labor Organizations (BNA Books) tells you each union’s officers, function, office locations, etc. The Institute of Industrial Relations posts links to union Web sites in the U.S. and in other countries.

The DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards lets you search for Annual Financial Reports (LM-2, LM-3 and LM-4) filed by labor unions since 2000 through the Online Public Disclosure Room. These includes information on the union’s net assets, investments, charitable contributions, salaries, etc. You can also search the data to find unions or union employees meeting specified criteria.

Union constitutions, by-laws and “Labor Organization Information Reports” (LM-1s) and older annual reports are not available online, but you can order copies from the DOL. For faster service, BNA Research & Custom Services (formerly BNA Plus)(703-341-3287 or research@bna.com) sells constitutions and by-laws. To learn about a union’s retirement plan, get the Form 5500 and other information returns filed with the Department of Labor using the databases listed in the “Retirement Plans” entry.

To see if a company has a union, and/or which union, you can contact the company directly or contact the likely union for that area. Alternatively, you can hire BNA Research & Custom Services to search for you (703-341-3287 or research@bna.com). They search a variety of databases, including their CBA database and labor-oriented news, to give you about the best answer you can get from published sources.

Unfair Labor Practice and Union Representation Petition Alerts: Labor Research Partners and Labor Research Partners (NLRB New Filing Locator) provide alerts when a someone files a petition with the NLRB for union representation or claims an unfair labor practice (ULP).

For statistical information, the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles an annual Economic News Release called “Union Membership” that covers the number and percentage of union members in the workforce (in total, by age, race industry, etc.) and what they earn. In addition, BNAPlus publishes a semi-annual report called NLRB Representation and Decertification Election Statistics and the Union Membership And Earnings Data Book, which tell you how much union members earn on average in various occupations, metropolitan areas and industries. See also the Union Membership and Coverage Database at UnionStats.com, “an Internet data resource providing private and public sector labor union membership, coverage, and density estimates compiled from the monthly household Current Population Survey (CPS) using BLS methods.”

To serve process on a union, see the Service of Process entry in this legal Encyclopedia.

Labor Unions outside the constraints of the National Labor Relations Act

By Thomas Brom (2007)

The percentage of organized workers in the private sector fell from 7.8 percent in 2005 to 7.4 percent in 2006—the lowest percentage in 75 years.

There are now two labor federations—the AFL-CIO and Change-to-Win—fighting each other for new territory while attempting to hang on to their existing 13 million members. Increasingly, their organizers see current laws, as amended by Congress and interpreted by courts and the labor board, as more of a hindrance than a help. Richard L. Trumka, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, once famously called for repeal of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935.

Though few labor academics would go that far, they share Trumka’s frustration. “Restrictions on organizing have come not just from Congress but also from the Supreme Court,” Morris says. “They’ve toggled back and forth—when one is friendly to labor, the other is not. The law has been the source of many of the problems of organized labor.” Adds Craver, “The NLRA is irrelevant. Everything flows from that.”

In a 2007 law review article, Cynthia L. Estlund, professor at New York University School of Law, highlighted the effect of three U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the ability of unions to organize. (Is the National Labor Relations Act an Outmoded Statute in the 21st Century?, 57 Lab. Lw. 148 (2006).) In First National Maintenance Corp. v. NLRB (452 U.S. 666 (1981)), the Court removed the issue of plant closings from mandatory collective bargaining; in NLRB v. Kentucky River Community Care, Inc. (532 U.S. 706 (2001)), it denied bargaining rights to millions of professional workers; and in Lechmere, Inc. v. NLRB (502 U.S. 527 (1992)), it let employers deny organizers access to the workplace. “Labor law is so unfavorable to unions right now, where do you start?” Estlund asks.

Labor academics acknowledge that at-will employment, globalization, and a changing U.S. labor market have undercut union ranks. So has union corruption. But Morris, author of The Blue Eagle at Work: Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the American Workplace (ILR Press, 2004), insists that the courts and the NLRB have played the critical role.
Yet these same labor academics were finding cause for optimism in new ways of organizing, especially among immigrant workers. Gathering at symposiums such as New Wave Organizing at New York University in 2005, they were sharing evidence of success outside the NLRB framework. Among the innovations: members-only bargaining as a stepping-stone to majority representation, and card-check agreements based on simple contracts rather than NLRB procedures.

Morris favors going back to basics: Section 7 of the NLRA, which was grafted onto the act from its precursor, the National Industrial Recovery Act, specifies, “Employees shall have 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.” It promotes organizing from below as a human right.

“Most people don’t know that the steel industry, during the first decade of the NLRA, was organized completely on a members-only basis,” Morris says. “The autoworkers did the same thing following the sit-down strikes. Today, members-only bargaining would be a good way to organize Wal-Mart.”

In 2006 Morris, working as an advisor to the United Steelworkers International Union, helped craft an unfair labor practice charge after an employer refused to bargain with a members-only employee group affiliated with the union. (Dick’s Sporting Goods, 2006 NLRB GCM LEXIS 35.) But in an advice memo, NLRB General Counsel Ronald Meisburg dismissed the charge, finding that “the Employer in these circumstances had no obligation to recognize and bargain with the Council.”

Because general counsel memos have no appeal process, Meisburg’s ruling kept arguments supporting the refusal-to-bargain claim from reaching the board. But Morris isn’t dissuaded, promising further action from the steelworkers union later this year. “The argument for members-only bargaining is legally sound,” he says. “It’s not if this change occurs, but when.”

Even the NLRB has acknowledged the spread of voluntary-recognition agreements, and in several recent cases it questioned whether they discriminate against employees who are not members of the bargaining unit. (See Dana Corp. and Metaldyne Corp., 341 NLRB 1283 (2004); and Shaw’s Supermarkets, 2004 NLRB GCM LEXIS 7 (2004).)

According to Estlund, “Card-check authorizations are a priority of union organizers, driven by the ridiculous rules governing certification elections.” She admits, however, that recognition by private contract has its risks. “If disputes arise, they are commonly referred to arbitration,” she says. “But who enforces the arbitrator’s decision is an open question.”

Despite her enthusiasm for new forms of organizing, Estlund says “the current alternatives to collective bargaining depend on labor unions being somewhere in the picture. The problem is that the alternative models can’t sustain themselves without dues and dues check-off.”

So it’s a circular argument—you still can’t get out of the game. But Julius Getman, chair of the University of Texas School of Law, says, “Organized labor still has the capacity to amaze people. It is possible to build unions outside the NLRA. It will just take a while.”

Concept of organizing Model of Unions in Labor Law

In this context, a definition of organizing Model of Unions is offered here: The concept that the primary function of a union’s officers and staff is to organize members to exert collective power to solve problems. This is in contrast to the Service Model of Unions.


Further Reading

See Also

    • Police Unions
    • National Labor Relations Act Provisions
    • Unions on Campus
    • National Labor Relations Act History
    • Trade Union
    • Collective Bargaining
    • Compensation
    • National Labor Relations Board
    • Service of Process
    • United States Department of Labor

Unions: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Unions. This part provides references, in relation to Unions, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Unions by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Unions and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Unions or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Unions and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Unions. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Unions should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Unions when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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