How Unions Win Workplace Protections from Anti-Union Employers

How Unions Win Workplace Protections from Anti-Union Employers

Uber called its recent union deal ‘historic.’ A new complaint alleges it was actually against the law.

Uber filed its first union-organizing complaint last June, and the company followed with another, and another. The result: the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has so far issued two settlements and imposed a $25 million judgment that includes a requirement that future employers must certify employees as eligible for representation.

The DOL’s latest complaint (PDF) alleges that Uber violated the National Labor Relations Act in two of its arbitration cases at two different arbitrations centers. And to make matters worse, “the Company has refused to produce the records in response to the Union’s subpoenas” in one of the cases.

That’s because Uber agreed to furnish the records voluntarily in exchange for the DOL agreeing to limit the scope of the subpoena.

To put Uber’s response in context, it’s worth pausing to consider the process that unions use to win workplace protections from anti-union employers.

To understand how that process works, you first need to understand labor law’s most essential feature:

Unions negotiate workplace protections with employers in collective bargaining with the union. They get those benefits, and if they win, the employer must accept that obligation, pay whatever financial penalties it chooses, and possibly take some disciplinary action.

Unions don’t hold regular elections to decide whether to bargain every job-seeker, because they’re more apt to make those decisions at the point at which they are most likely to win.

Instead, they collect the data that they need to decide this question in large-scale surveys from their members. Many of the questions are fairly simple, one might say “do you favor paying more to an employee who works 40 hours per week (yes) or less (no)?”

While members may answer this question in a variety of ways, there’s no reason to expect that they must answer it “yes” or “no” in equal proportions.

So the union surveys will likely find that some employees do strongly favor more money for a 40-hour

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