our everyday life

How to Handle Union Rep Harassment

by Ruth Mayhew

Whether you're a union member being harassed by a union local representative or a nonunion employee who feels harassed by a union rep who's trying to organize your workplace, you can either ignore the harassment and hope it goes away or file a complaint. Union reps can be persistent, although they don't always resort to harassment. Nevertheless, if you feel uncomfortable or pressured by a union rep, your options are to speak up internally -- that is, within the union ranks -- or to file a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Organized Labor Movement

It's no surprise that unions and employers sometimes have adversarial relationships. The goal of organized labor is strength in numbers -- solidarity, it's called. When the National Labor Relations Act, or the NLRA, passed in 1935, it clarified workers' rights to engage in collective activity through supporting organized labor and union organizing in the workplace. The NLRA imposed restrictions on employers that prohibits them from interfering with those rights. Congressional support for organized labor based its arguments in favor of the NLRA on the inability of individual employees to have any impact on their working conditions if they weren't permitted to work in concert with others.

The Taft-Hartley Equalizer

Based on the NLRA restrictions, employers were restricted from interfering from employee's rights to engage in concerted action to improve their working conditions. But that left employees who were satisfied with their pay, benefits and hours who weren't interested in concerted action or union representation. With the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, labor unions were prohibited from interfering with workers' rights not to engage in concerted activity. Union reps who tried to pressure workers who didn't want to unionize and who didn't support organized labor were subject to sanctions and penalties.

Harassment of Union Members

It's not unusual for union members themselves to be subjected to harassment by the very union reps who encouraged them to join their ranks in the interest of solidarity. The unsavory behavior of some union leaders created tension between union members who didn't agree on philosophical or political leanings of the union to which they belong. For example, during campaign season before union officer elections, union members who are harassed or subject to threats unless they vote for certain members, can go to their union's district council or even the international level of the union to which they belong and file a complaint. Complaint procedures vary, but you'll likely get official resolution to your problem if you consult the NLRB, the government agency that enforces the applicable laws.

Go To the Board

The National Labor Relations Board, or the NLRB, enforces both the NLRA and the Taft-Hartley Act. The process for filing a complaint against unions or employers is referred to as an Unfair Labor Practices, or ULP, charge, using NLRB Form 508. Contact the NLRB office in your region; find it at their website, nlrb.gov. Don't wait too long to file the charge; you have just six months from the time of the incident. An NLRB agent will speak to you about your experience and if you have documentation, such as harassing voice mail or text messages, letters or other written communication, take the evidence with you. The NLRB's site indicates that ULP charges are filed with the agency's regional director, but the person with whom you initially meet is an intake officer or board agent.

Be Diligent and Vigilant

Refrain from trying to match wits with the union rep who is harassing you. He may try to bully or intimidate you, but your only response should be to maintain documentation of what you believe constitutes harassment. Any documentation you save may be used to support your ULP charge during an NLRB hearing, should the board find your complaint has merit. Also, if you feel comfortable doing so, alert your employer so that the company can also observe whether other employees are being harassed by the union that already represents their workers or wants to represent their workers.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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