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NHL files unfair labor practice claim against players' union

Minnesota hockey fans are likely relieved that the NHL and the players' association recently reached a tentative agreement. The agreement came after four months of negotiation.

Fans may not have know, however, that the HL also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the union was bargaining in bad faith.

In a sense, that separate move is a bit of a role reversal. Typically, an employee is the one seeking protection from the NLRB against an employer, usually involving an allegation of retaliation or retribution for concerted activity. Of course, unlawful activity should be stopped, regardless of the culprit.

The NLRB is an independent agency of the federal government. It has the authority to investigate unfair labor practices and enforce the protections offered by the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRA is a federal law that prohibits employers from firing or retaliating against employees who take part in collective activity designed to improve working conditions. Often, that activity starts with simple group activity or discussions about job conditions. The NLRA's protections apply even if the employees are not part of a union.

Notably, the NLRA's protections against employer retaliation may be expanding. In several recent rulings, the National Labor Relations Board has determined that employer policies that ban social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, may be illegal if they inhibit workers' from discussing work conditions online. The reason: Such online employee comments might qualify as the type of protected concerted activity contemplated by the National Labor Relations Act.

Yet the determination of whether a type of concerted activity falls under the protection of the NLRA is often a contentious issue. In general, two or more employees must be acting together to improve wages or working conditions for a class of employees, although there are exceptions. For that reason, a single employee posting disparaging comments about an employer online might not qualify as protected concerted activity. In addition, the comments generally must not involve violence or threats, and not divulge trade secrets. An employment attorney can explain which laws prohibit retaliation on the basis of engaging in concerted activity or reporting an unfair labor practice.

Source: kstp.com, "NHL, Union Meet Again; More Talks on Tap Tuesday," Jennie Olson, Jan. 1, 2013

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