A ‘neutrality agreement” is a contract between a union and an employer under which the employer agrees to support a union’s attempt to organize its workforce. Although these agreements come in several different forms, common provisions include:
Gag Rule: While most neutrality agreements purport to merely require an employer to remain ‘neutral,” in reality they impose a gag order on speech not favorable to the union. A company, including its managers and supervisors, are prohibited from saying anything negative about the union or unionization during an organizing drive. Employees are only permitted to hear one side of the story: the version the union officials want employees to hear.
No Secret Ballot Election: Most neutrality agreements include a “card check” agreement. Under such an agreement, employees are not permitted to vote on union representation in a secret ballot election monitored by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Instead, the employer pledges to recognize the union automatically if a certain number of signed union authorization cards are collected. Experience shows that many employees are coerced or misled into signing these authorization cards, often being falsely told that they are merely health insurance enrollment forms, non-binding “statements of interest,” requests for an election, or even tax forms.
Access to Premises: Neutrality agreements commonly give the union permission to come on company property during work hours for the purpose of collecting union authorization cards. This differs from the guidelines set by the NLRB and the courts, under which an employer has no obligation to, and may actually be prohibited from, providing the union with such sweeping access to its employees.
Access to Personal Information: Neutrality agreements frequently require that the company provide personal information about employees to the union, including where employees and their families live. Armed with a company-provided list of the names and addresses of each employee, union officials can conduct home visits to pressure employees to sign union authorization cards.
Captive Audience Speeches: Employees may be forced to attend company-paid “captive audience” speeches pursuant to neutrality agreements. In these mandatory forums, the union and management work together to pressure employees to sign up for the union. Sometimes it is announced that the union and company have already formed a ‘strategic partnership,” making union representation seem a foregone conclusion. In one facility owned by Johnson Controls Inc., it was strongly implied that if workers did not support the union’s organizing effort, they risked losing potential job opportunities.
Employers are often pressured into neutrality agreements by union picketing, threats, or comprehensive “corporate campaigns.” Some employers are pressured into neutrality agreements by other companies who are acting at the behest of union officials. A neutrality agreement itself may require an employer to impose the neutrality agreement on other companies with whom it affiliates.
Even more ominous, there is a growing trend in which state and local politicians pass laws mandating that employers who wish to do business with the state or locality must sign neutrality agreements. In one notorious case, the San Francisco Airport Authority mandated that any concessionaires who wished to lease space at the airport had to first sign a neutrality agreement. That governmental interference in private labor relations was held to be federally preempted, and was enjoined, in Aeroground, Inc. v. City & County of San Francisco, 170 F. Supp. 2d 950 (N.D. Cal. 2001). Unfortunately, many politicians are still attempting to require neutrality agreements as a condition of contracting with the government or of obtaining grants, even though most, if not all, such requirements are unlawful under federal law.
The bottom line is this: employees’ rights of free choice are sacrificed and lost under so-called ‘neutrality agreements.” Instead of being able to freely choose for themselves whether they desire union representation through a secret ballot election, management and union officials work together to impose unionization on workers from the top down.
The Foundation has established a Neutrality Task Force to help employees who find themselves forced (or potentially forced) into unwanted union representation as a result of these devices. The Foundation stands ready, willing and able to help employees who are victims or potential victims of these schemes. Workers who wish to request legal assistance may write us, call us toll-free at 800-336-3600, or send an e-mail message to [email protected]. Address your request for assistance to Legal Department.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses.
For more, see our “Neutrality Agreement” Resouces Section.