Understanding the National Labor Relations Act That Protected Google Workers Who Walked Out

Both union and non-union employees have a right to act for the purpose of "mutual aid or protection"

Google employees may find safety in numbers after staging a worldwide walkout on Thursday — but they could be surprised to learn that it’s not the First Amendment that would protect them from corporate discipline.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the government from abridging the freedom of speech, NBC News reported. Employees of private companies are often “at will,” which means they can be terminated for no cause. A person's free speech rights under the federal and state constitutions are not infringed unless there is state action. Still, this does not mean the Google employees are completely unprotected or that they can be fired for their walkout.

In passing the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), Congress intended to protect private employees when they organize collectively for their mutual aid and protection in the workplace. The NLRA provides that “[e]mployees shall have the right to ... engage in ... concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection.”

The law makes it an unfair labor practice for the employer to interfere with or restrain employees in the exercise of these guaranteed rights. Both union and non-union employees have a right to act for the purpose of "mutual aid or protection." This includes efforts to improve their conditions of employment, even if they use methods outside the immediate employee-employer relationship.

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