This overview of whistleblowers’ role in protecting Union rights was sent as part of NWC’s Sunday Read series that aims to educate supporters about specific whistleblower legislative or policy initiatives. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.
National Whistleblower Center generally supports worker’s rights and unions often help workers access better healthcare, wages, and hours due to their ability to speak on behalf of a large group of employees. Whistleblowers have the courage to blow the whistle on unions and their employers alike, but for many whistleblowers a union may feel like the first line of defense. Labor protections, including the right to organize and unionize, set the standard for the treatment of employees in many sectors and for that reason it is important that these standards always include the right to blow the whistle. It is also important that workers are protected when they blow the whistle on employment and labor related violations.
In this week’s Sunday Reading, we will highlight the importance of union protections and how these can help support whistleblower protections in the workplace.
The National Labor Relations Act:
In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), protecting the rights of workers and encouraging collective bargaining, mostly through labor unions. With the goal to increase economic efficiency, Congress sought to reduce conflict between employees, employers, and labor unions. As the first sweeping legislation to support unions, commonly referred to as the ‘Labor Bill of Rights’ at the time, Senator Wagner’s bill was a progressive effort to protect the working class.
The ‘Wagner bill’ also created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that enforces the NLRA. This body still functions today, processing cases nationwide concerning unfair labor practices. The general counsel is responsible for processing cases, while the NLRB’s division of judges hear and settles these cases. These positions are all made by presidential appointment.
This system sets the baseline for labor laws, but there are several supporting acts that are still relevant today. Including the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, there are many individually stipulated rights, strengthening unions and provided needed legitimacy and transparency.
Whistleblowers Protecting Workers: The PRO Act:
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 (PRO Act), H.R.842, is a bill that would greatly expand the rights of workers in the workplace. From stopping employers from improperly categorizing employees to making it a federal offense to coerce employees to attend employer meetings with anti-union messaging, this act significantly strengthens the power employees to make their own decisions.
This bill is extremely important, outlining specific whistleblower protections for employees concerning a variety of activities.
Specifically workers would be protected:
- when providing information about violations to a government agency,
- testifying against an employer or participating in an enforcement proceeding, and
- refusing to participate in activities that an employee reasonably believes to be a violation of labor laws.
And, covered employees (any employee or agent of a labor organization), who believe that they were discriminated against or unfairly terminated under these guidelines would be able to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor.
Time for Action!
This bill, while revolutionary in increasing whistleblower protections for workers, has been stuck in the Senate for over a year. This bill was introduced in the house on February 4th, 2021, and passed the house just a month later, on March 9th. Since then, it has been waiting to be reviewed by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). Bills are regularly ignored when referred from the other chamber of congress when they are not supported, but they can always be put back on the agenda. NWC supports these important whistleblower protections and wants the PRO Act to get through committee and be passed in the Senate.
NWC has created an action alert so that you can easily write to the Senators on the HELP committee, urging them to pass the PRO Act to support whistleblowers. Please take action to support labor whistleblowers and increase awareness around important whistleblower issues.
Thank you for reading this edition of the Sunday Read series. If you enjoy our series, please donate today and subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed about how you can take action to support whistleblowers through NWC’s campaigns.
This story was researched and drafted by NWC Intern, Shawn Robbins, a Sophomore double major in Economics and Sociology at University of California, Irvine.