S. Amir Kohan

Industrial Actions and Unfair Labor Practices

Either management or union can initiate retaliatory action in the workplace as a response
to the other party’s failure to agree at the bargaining table. Industrial actions are designed
to get the attention of the opposite party. Unfair labor practices are those activities that
violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Industrial Actions. Industrial actions can be initiated by either employer or employees
and almost always result from the breakdown in the negotiation process.
Employee-initiated industrial actions can include work slowdowns (where production
rates are decreased from normal), work stoppage (where a portion of the facility stops its
production), and “sickouts” (orchestrated absences by calling in “sick” such as the “blue
flu” when police officers fail to report for duty).

Employer-initiated industrial action usually involves lockouts, when employees are
prevented from reporting to work because the employer has locked the facility or
otherwise barred their access to the work area.

Unfair Labor Practices. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) explains that
unfair labor practices can be blamed on either employers or labor unions. Common
among issues evoking such claims are those revolving around the process of union
elections. Unions commonly claim the employer is blocking their organizing efforts, and
employers claim that the union is harassing employees and electioneering using paid
time. Another issue that generates a great number of complaints is how management and
union members behave during a work stoppage (strike).

Complaints of unfair labor practices are formally filed with the National Labor Relations
Board (NLRB). The NLRB will investigate the complaints and issue a determination
along with any order for corrective action or limitation on the activities of the offending

In some instances, when an employer believes there has been a violation of civil law
requirements, it will go directly to the court requesting an injunction against the union to
prevent the behavior that is causing the problem. That is common when striking union
pickets block access to parking lots, loading docks, or employee building entrances.

Municipal laws in many locations govern how public access to property must be maintained
and how public sidewalks and roadways can be used appropriately.

In other instances, unions can seek court assistance when employers are being accused
of inappropriate controls on picketers. The use of physical force by private security guards
could be an example.
In either situation, the remedy sought through the court is an injunction preventing
the offending behaviors. With an injunction in hand, it is possible to request help from
law enforcement bodies such as the police department or sheriff’s department to enforce
the injunction.

HR’s Role. Human resource professionals are usually the people responsible for
monitoring activities in the workplace, documenting the behavior of individuals, and
communicating the messages from management and unions to one another.

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