By Colette Perold and Eric Dirnbach
Section 7 rights refer to the rights that workers in the private sector have to organize collectively. It’s part of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which only applies to the private sector.
It’s important to note that workers in the public sector have an intrinsic right to organize through their constitutional First Amendment rights of Free Speech and Assembly. Workers in the public sector may also choose to organize around specific municipal, county, or state labor bills (see an analysis of how public sector collective-bargaining legislation in particular varies by state).
Before we dive in further, a word of caution: worker organizing is always fundamentally a question of power, not law. While you have the rights no matter where you work to organize with your coworkers, your ability to win justice at work will always come from the amount of power you build with your coworkers, not from a decision handed down from on high.
Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) declares that all workers have a right to engage in “concerted activities,” meaning collective action at work. This means that a group of workers acting together can make demands of their employer and do so with the protection of the law. This does not apply to individuals—only to groups. If one worker asks a boss for paid sick time, according to the law she can be fired. But if a group of workers asks a boss for paid sick time, according to the law they cannot.
Here’s Section 7 in full:
A crucial aspect of Section 7 is that the employer must know why you are taking collective action. If the action is carried out in secret, and the boss has no information that concerted activity is taking place, it may not be protected under Section 7, and workers could be disciplined. Workers who do not have officially recognized unions are protected by this law, and pre-majority unions can craft very effective strategies with knowledge of how Section 7 applies to them. A United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) pamphlet, “Your Right to a Union, Build it Now” from 2008 gives a helpful example of this:
The pre-majority unions we write about in this report use Section 7 rights as a way to identify legal frameworks to organize collective action. For a full explanation of how to identify organizing issues and plan campaigns using Section 7, see “Your Right to a Union, Build it Now.”