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The Importance of Unions & the Role of an Employment Lawyer

Chris Sanders Law PLLC  Sept. 30, 2022

Why unions?

Unions have been around for a long time. And there have been moments when labor movements have taken off. More than a century ago, a fire in a garment factory in New York City galvanized the labor union movement. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory employed some 500 women, many of them immigrants and some as young as 15, who worked 13-hour shifts with just 30 minutes for lunch, for $6 a week. 

The factory, occupying floors 8 to 10 of the Asch Building, had no ceiling sprinklers, just one fragile and inadequate fire escape, and doors that were locked at the boss’s insistence on “uninterrupted work.”  

On March 11, 1911, a fire broke out and quickly spread from workstation to workstation, igniting the flammable garments being sewn together. At the end of the ordeal, 146 workers had perished, many jumping from windows to their death. 

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory led to reforms in New York regarding not only fire safety but also employment laws. The New York State Department of Labor was created as a result. The reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were not limited to New York but shook the entire nation. Under the New Deal, many of the reforms sought by progressives and activists at the time of the fire were enacted by FDR, including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935. The NLRA codified the rights of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for wages and benefits. 

If people are unionizing, what do I need to know? 

If you and people who work with you are considering forming a union at work in or around Louisville, Kentucky, or you and your union are seeking legal advice and guidance about employment law issues at work, contact me at Chris Sanders Law PLLC. Employment law, labor unions, and collective bargaining are my firm’s priorities. My legal focus has always been—and continues to be—to help improve workplaces and communities across the country. 

The same is true of companies and nonprofits who want to take the high road with the people who want to unionize. If you're a progressive, pro-union employer, but you don't know what the process is, what to expect, and what to do, I think I can help.

I'm in Louisville, Kentucky, but I work everywhere. I've advised, consulted, and worked with like-minded individuals and organizations everywhere in the nation. As a consultant, organizer, speaker, strategist, and legal representative, I’m here to help you move forward. 

Why Are Unions Important? 

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy not only highlighted the lack of health and safety standards in the workplace but also revealed a complete disregard for workers’ rights. The women had to work unimaginable hours under unbearable conditions for meager pay. They had made earlier efforts to improve their pay and rights but were ignored. When employers are blind to the plight of their workers, organizing as a group—into a bargaining unit called a labor union—can help apply pressure. Strikes and walkouts are tools that unions can use to further press their case for the changes they’re seeking.  

It wasn’t until the enactment of the NLRA and its enforcement by the subsequently created National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that the union movement gained some muscle and became capable of fully representing American workers and their employment rights. Still, it wasn’t until the 1950s that American Labor truly found its voice in American society. 

Jnions are still important today, though the world of work has changed, a lot. Safety, collaboration, knowledge work, health care, quality improvement, and more still matter, and more than ever.

What Is Collective Bargaining? 

The NLRA gives workers the right to bargain as a group with their employer through a representative or representatives chosen by the workers through their union. The representatives (sometimes a committee or bargaining group) and the employer must bargain “in good faith” until they agree on a contract or reach an impasse. 

If an employer declares an impasse, it can impose the terms and conditions offered to the union when bargaining commenced. The union, of course, can challenge the declaration of an impasse. If and when the employer and the union agree on a contract, the contract governs the wages, hours, and conditions of work.

The Vital Role of an Employment Attorney 

Contentious issues invariably arise in the process of negotiating for a new collective bargaining agreement, and even after the agreement is in place, disputes and disagreements can threaten the rights of workers. Sometimes, employers will even attempt to take retaliatory actions against union organizers and members, even though retaliation is clearly prohibited by the NLRA. 

Some workplaces still suffer from employer policies that challenge or limit employee rights, and a push for a union might be just what is needed.  

And, the opposite is true, too. One of the great new developments in the world of work is owners and businesses, CEOs and nonprofits, are increasingly progressive and pro-union. I've been able to help several employers in recent months who do the right thing- because they want to do the right thing- when the people who work there decide to unionize.

I'm a coalition builder and an organizer. I am experienced and knowledgeable not only in employment law in general, but also in collective bargaining and union organizing laws as well. Since the 1990s, I have provided legal and strategic counsel to national workers’ rights organizations with chapters across the nation. I can help you raise awareness and build momentum toward a goal you or your organization have.  

Reach out to me at Chris Sanders Law PLLC to set up a consultation. I am dedicated to doing what is necessary to help improve the lives of people at work and in the community. Let’s work together toward achieving practical—and much-needed—resul