Federal labor law, primarily through the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), protects the right of employees to engage in various activities related to organizing for the purpose of collective bargaining. This includes actions directly related to organizing and “concerted activities” that involve matters of concern to employees. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigates alleged violations of workers’ rights under the NLRA. An administrative law judge (ALJ) with the NLRB recently ruled in favor of a group of workers who alleged that their employer unlawfully fired them because of an email exchange that criticized the employer and some of its managers. Mexican Radio Corp., Case No. 02-CA-168989 (NLRB, N.Y. Office, Apr. 26, 2017). The ALJ ruled that the workers were engaging in concerted activity protected by the NLRA.
Among other rights, the NLRA protects workers’ right “to engage in…concerted activities for the purpose of…mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157. Employers may not “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” who are exercising their rights under the NLRA. Id. at § 158(a)(1). The NLRA defines “protected concerted activities” very broadly. It protects workers in this regard even if they are not members of a labor union. Workers are not obligated under this provision to “present a specific demand upon their employer to remedy a condition they find objectionable.” Labor Board v. Washington Aluminum Co., 370 U.S. 9, 14 (1962). In that case, the Supreme Court found that the workers’ lack of a bargaining representative, combined with immediate circumstances, required them “to speak for themselves as best they could.” Id.
The respondent in Mexican Radio Corp. operates a restaurant. According to the ALJ’s written decision, three employees made a concerted complaint to the respondent in early October 2015 regarding their work schedules and other employment-related issues. In late October, the three employees, along with a fourth employee, responded to a group email sent by a former employee who had recently resigned. The former employee addressed concerns about work schedules, tip policies, and complaints about a specific manager in the email. The four employees expressed support and agreement with many of the allegations. On the following day, the respondent reprimanded and then terminated all four employees.