Official State of Iowa Website

Unions and Worker Collective Action

This page contains basic information on workers' rights to work together with one another to improve their pay or working conditions. This type of action is often thought of in connection with labor unions, but can also happen outside of a union. 

Is Iowa a right-to-work state and what does that mean?

In Iowa, your employer can’t prevent you from joining a union or refuse to employ you because you’re a member of a union. At the same time, you are not required to be a member of a union—an employer can’t refuse to hire you just because you are not a member of a union. Your employer also can’t make you pay fees or charges to a union to keep your job.

These types of laws are often called “right-to-work” laws, making Iowa a “right-to-work” state. Iowa’s laws on this topic are in Iowa Code chapter 731.

What rights relating to labor unions and collective worker action are protected by federal law?

Workers right to work together with their co-workers to improve working conditions is protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a federal law. This protection applies to both union and non-union workers. The NLRA places requirements on the activity of both employers and labor unions. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enforces the NLRA. The NLRB’s regulations about rights and responsibilities under the NLRA are available here.

Which businesses and workers does the NLRA cover?

The NLRA does not apply to all employers, nor all types of workers. More information is available from the National Labor Relations Board here, but in general:

  • The NLRA covers most private sector employers, including manufacturers, retailers, private universities, and health care facilities.
  • The NLRA does not cover federal, state, or local governments; employers who employ only agricultural workers; and employers subject to the Railway Labor Act (interstate railroads and airlines).
  • The NLRA does not cover agricultural laborers, independent contractors, and supervisors (with limited exceptions).

Information iconState and Federal Workers

State of Iowa employees’ collective bargaining activity is covered by Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code. The University of Iowa Labor Center provides a helpful brochure explaining some of the basics of the Iowa law. 

The Federal Labor Relations Authority administers the labor-management relations program for federal (non-Postal) employees. The law on federal employee labor relations is at 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71, with the specific rules available in title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  

What rights does the NLRA provide to workers when it applies?

The NLRA gives workers a variety of rights when it applies, both with and without union involvement, including:

  • Talking about your working conditions and pay with your coworkers
  • Acting with one or more of your co-workers to try to improve your working conditions
    • Examples include:
      • raising work-related complaints with your employer
      • contacting a government agency about your working conditions
      • seeking help from a union
  • Joining a union
  • Helping a union, on non-working time, become the representative of the workers at your place of work

You also have the right to choose not to do any of these things.

Your employer cannot retaliate against you (for example, by firing or demoting you) for engaging in protected activities. Visit our page on Retaliation for more information. 

Resources for more information on worker organizing

The Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge Center is a resource from the U.S. Government that has information on workers’ rights to organize with co-workers and on protections from retaliation for engaging in those rights.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lists frequently asked questions on their website. If you have more questions about the NLRA, you can send a question by email, or contact your local NLRB office. Iowa is covered by Region 18 of the NLRB.

Employer.gov provides resources to help employers understand their obligations under the NLRA at their Organizing Rights page

The University of Iowa Labor Center is a helpful source for information on workplace organizing in Iowa. The Labor Center has a detailed Iowa Worker Rights Manual, videos, and other resources for workers on their website.

Does the NLRA give workers the right to strike?

A strike is when workers organize together and intentionally stop work to make an employer agree to the workers’ demands, such as better pay or a safer workplace. The right to strike is a right included in the NLRA, and workers can strike whether they have a union or not. The law places limits on strikes, so not all strike activity is legal. Whether a strike is legal or not is very fact specific.

Strikers can strike for two general types of lawful reasons: (1) unfair labor practices; and (2) economic reasons. Both types of strikers maintain their status as employees, but unfair labor strikers have greater rights to job reinstatement than economics strikers.

What are some examples of reasons for striking that are not lawful?

  • Striking to force an employer to join a labor or employer organization.
  • Striking to stop an employer from doing business with another employer

Strikes can also be unlawful because of timing, violation of a no-strike provision in a contract, or the misconduct of strikers. Before striking or picketing a health care institution, a union must give required notice.

What are some examples of actions that would be considered serious misconduct by strikers?

  • Physically blocking people from entering or leaving the workplace.
  • Threatening violence against employees who aren’t striking.
  • Attacking management representatives.

Icon of a hand typing on a keyboardResources for More Information on Strikes

From the National Labor Relations Board:

From Iowa Legal Aid:

From the Iowa Code:


Ask a Law Librarian

University of Iowa Labor Center

Visit

Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge Center

Visit

Related Pages

Work Law 

Retaliation

The information in the People's Law Library is for informational purposes only. Nothing on this website is legal advice. The law is complicated and many aspects of the law change regularly. Consider reaching out to a lawyer. More information about how to find a lawyer, including free and low-cost options, is available on the Finding a Lawyer page.