National Labor Relations Act

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National Labor Relations Act
Great Seal of the United States.
Long title An act to diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce, to create a National Labor Relations Board, and for other purposes.
Nickname(s) Wagner Act
Enacted by the  74th United States Congress
Effective July 6, 1935
Citations
Public Law 74-198
Stat. 49 Stat. 449
Codification
Title(s) amended 29
U.S.C. section(s) amended 151–169
Legislative history
Major amendments
Taft-Hartley Amendments of 1947
Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1957
Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959
United States Supreme Court cases
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (49 Stat. 449) 29 U.S.C. § 151–169 (also known as the Wagner Act after NY Senator Robert F. Wagner[1]) is a foundational statute of US labor law which guarantees basic rights of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining for better terms and conditions at work, and take collective action including strike if necessary. The act also created the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts elections that can require employers to engage in collective bargaining with labor unions (also known as trade unions). The Act does not apply to workers who are covered by the Railway Labor Act, agricultural employees, domestic employees, supervisors, federal, state or local government workers, independent contractors and some close relatives of individual employers.[2]

Background[edit]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the act on July 5, 1935. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (right) looks on.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation into law on July 5, 1935.[3]

It also has its roots in a variety of different labor acts previously enacted:[citation needed]

Content[edit]

Under §1 (29 U.S.C. § 151) of the Act, the key principles and policy findings on which the Act was based are explained. The Act aims to correct the "inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association". To achieve this, the central idea is the promotion of collective bargaining between independent trade unions, on behalf of the workforce, and the employer.[4]

encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.

Various definitions are explained in §2, (29 U.S.C. § 152) including 2(5) defining "labor organization" and 2(9) defining "labor dispute". The Act aims to protect employees as a group, and so is not based on a formal or legal relationship between an employer and employer.[5]

Enforcement[edit]

The National Labor Relations Board, which is established in NLRA 1935 §§3 to 6 (29 U.S.C. § 153–156), is the primary enforcer of the Act. Employees and unions may act themselves in support of their rights, however because of collective action problems and the costs of litigation, the National Labor Relations Board is designed to assist and bear some of the costs. Under section 3, (29 USC §153) has two basic functions: overseeing the process by which employees decide whether to be represented by a labor organization and prosecuting violations. Those processes are initiated in the regional offices of the NLRB.[6] The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board give legal advice. Sections 4 and 5 set out provisions on the officers of the Board and their expenses. Section 6 empowers the Board to issue rules interpreting the labor legislation. This will generally be binding, unless a court deems it to have acted outside its authority.

Under section 10 (29 USC §160) the NLRB is empowered to prevent unfair labor practices, which may ultimately be reviewed by the courts. Under section 11 it can lead investigations, collect evidence, issue subpoenas, and require witnesses to give evidence. Under section 12 it is an offense for people to unduly interfere with the Board's conduct.

Collective bargaining[edit]

Section 7 (29 U.S.C. § 157) sets out the general principle that employees have the right to join a trade union and engage in collective bargaining.[7]

Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 8(a)(3).

Specific rules in support of collective bargaining are as follows.

  • There can be only one exclusive bargaining representative for a unit of employees.
  • Promotion of the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.
  • Employers are compelled to bargain with the representative of its employees.
  • Employees are allowed to discuss wages.[8][9][10]

Unfair labor practices[edit]

Main article: Unfair labor practice

Under section 8 (29 U.S.C. § 158) the law defines a set of prohibited actions by employers, employees, and unions, known as an unfair labor practice.[11] The first five unfair labor practices aimed at employers are in section 8(a). These are,

  • (a)(1) "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7". This includes freedom of association, mutual aid or protection, self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively for wages and working conditions through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other protected concerted activities with or without a union.
  • (a)(2) "to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it"
  • (a)(3) "by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization"
  • (a)(4) discriminating against employees who file charges or testify.
  • (a)(5) refusing to bargain collectively with the representative of the employer's employees.

In addition, added by the Taft-Hartley Act 1947, there are seven unfair labor practices aimed at unions and employees.

Election of bargaining representatives[edit]

Under section 9 (29 U.S.C. § 159) the people elected by a majority of the workforce have the right to become the exclusive representatives of workers in collective bargaining with the employer.

Exclusions[edit]

The NLRA 1935 does not cover two main groups of employees: those working for the government, and in the railway or airline industries. Section 2(2) (29 USC §152(2)) states that the Act does not apply to employees of the "United States or any wholly owned Government corporation, or any Federal Reserve Bank, or any State or political subdivision thereof, or any person subject to the Railway Labor Act". Under section 19, people who have religious convictions against joining a trade union are entitled to not associate or financially support it.

Reactions[edit]

The act was bitterly opposed by the Republican Party and business groups. The American Liberty League viewed the act as a threat to freedom and engaged in a campaign of opposition in order to repeal these "socialist" efforts. This included encouraging employers to refuse to comply with the NLRB and supporting the nationwide filing of injunctions to keep the NLRB from functioning. This campaign continued until the NLRA was found constitutional by the Supreme Court in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (1937).

Labor groups, while overwhelmingly supportive, expressed a set of reservations. The American Federation of Labor and some employers accused the NLRB of favoring the Congress of Industrial Organizations, particularly when determining whether to hold union elections in plant-wide, or wall-to-wall, units, which the CIO usually sought, or to hold separate elections in separate craft units, which the craft unions in the AFL favored. While the NLRB initially favored plant-wide units, which tacitly favored the CIO's industrial unionism, it retreated to a compromise position several years later under pressure from Congress that allowed craft unions to seek separate representation of smaller groups of workers at the same time that another union was seeking a wall-to-wall unit.

Employers and their allies in Congress also criticized the NLRA for its expansive definition of "employee" and for allowing supervisors and plant guards to form unions, sometimes affiliated with the unions that represented the employees whom they were supposed to supervise or police. Many accused the NLRB of a general pro-union and anti-employer bias, pointing to the Board's controversial decisions in such areas as employer free speech and "mixed motive" cases, in which the NLRB held that an employer violated the Act by using misconduct that ordinarily would not result in termination to fire an employee who was engaged in pro-union activity. In addition, employers campaigned over the years to outlaw a number of union practices such as closed shops, secondary boycotts, jurisdictional strikes, mass picketing, strikes in violation of contractual no-strike clauses, pension and health and welfare plans sponsored by unions and multi-employer bargaining.

Many of these criticisms included provisions that employers and their allies were unable to have included in the NLRA. Others developed in reaction to NLRB decisions. Over all, they wanted the NLRB to be neutral as to bargaining power, but the NLRA's policy section takes a decidedly pro-employee position:

It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.

Some of these changes were later achieved in the 1947 amendments.

Amendments[edit]

Opponents of the Wagner Act introduced several hundred bills to amend or repeal the law in the decade after its passage. All of them failed or were vetoed until the passage of the Taft-Hartley amendments in 1947. More recent failed amendments included attempts in 1978 to permit triple backpay awards and union collective bargaining certification based on signed union authorization cards, a provision that is similar to one of the proposed amendments in the Employee Free Choice Act. Under the NLRA, unions can become the representative based on signed union authorization cards only if the employer voluntarily recognizes the union. If the employer refuses to recognize the union, the union can be certified through a secret-ballot election conducted by the NLRB.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ See also Pub.L. 74–198, 49 Stat. 449
  2. ^ Phelps], [project editors, Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle (2005). West's encyclopedia of American law (2nd ed. ed.). Detroit: Thomson/Gale. ISBN 0-7876-6367-0. 
  3. ^ "National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA")". 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169. July 5, 1935. 
  4. ^ Our documents: 100 milestone documents from the National Archives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0-19-530959-1. 
  5. ^ See also, E Dannin, 'Not a Limited, Confined, or Private Matter: Who is an Employee under the National Labor Relations Act' (2008) 59 Labor Law Journal 5
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Template:29
  8. ^ "Salary and Benefit Discussions Among Employees". Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  9. ^ "Where Does NLRA Apply?". Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  10. ^ "Know Your Rights". Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  11. ^ Initially there were five, now there are eight categories. See RL Hogler, The employment relationship: law and policy (Ardsley 1989) 52. See also Our documents: 100 milestone documents from the National Archives (OUP 2003) 163

References[edit]

Books
  • Atleson, James B. (1983). Values and assumptions in American labor law ([Pbk. ed., 1983]. ed.). Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 0-585-25833-3. 
  • Cortner, Richard C. (1964). The Wagner act cases. Knoxville: Univ. of Tenn. Press. 
  • Dannin, Ellen (2006). Taking back the workers' law : how to fight the assault on labor rights. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press/Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4438-1. 
  • Gregory, Charles O. (1961). Labor and the law 2d rev. ed., with 1961 supplement. New York: Norton. p. 619. 
  • Morris, Charles J. (2004). The blue eagle at work : reclaiming democratic rights in the American workplace. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4317-2. 
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M. (c. 2003). The coming of the New Deal : 1933-1935. (1. Mariner books ed. ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-34086-6. 
Articles
  • F. L. B., Jr. (Mar 1941). "Reinstatement with Back Pay under the Wagner Act". 89 U. Pa. L. Rev. & Amer. L. Reg. (5): 648–660. doi:10.2307/3309199. JSTOR 3309199. 
  • Keyserling, Leon H. (1960–1961). "The Wagner Act: Its Origin and Current Significance". 29 Geo. Wash. L. Rev.: 199. 
  • Klare, Karl E. (1977–1978). "Judicial Deradicalization of the Wagner Act and the Origins of Modern Legal Consciousness, 1937-1941". 62 Minn. L. Rev: 265. 
  • Lynd, Staughton (1984). "Communal Rights". 62 Tex. L. Rev. (1417): 1430–1435. 
  • Mikva, A. J. (1986). "The Changing Role of the Wagner Act in the American Labor Movement". 38 Stan. L. Rev. (4): 1123–1140. doi:10.2307/1228578. JSTOR 1228578. 
  • Nathanson, N.L.; Lyons, E. (1938–1939). "Judicial Review of the National Labor Board". 33 Ill. L. Rev.: 749. 
  • "Effect on the A. F. of L. -C. I. O. Controversy of the Determination of Appropriate Bargaining Units under the National Labor Relations Act". 47 Yale L. J. (1): 122–124. 1935–1958. doi:10.2307/791821. 
  • "The Proposed Amendments to the Wagner Act". 52 Harv. L. Rev. (6): 970. 1938–1939. doi:10.2307/1334189. JSTOR 1334189. 
  • Pope, J. G. (2004). "How American Workers Lost the Right to Strike, and Other Tales". 103 Mich. L. Rev. (3): 518–553. doi:10.2307/4141930. JSTOR 4141930. 
  • Pope, Jim (2006). "Worker Lawmaking, Sit-Down Strikes, and the Shaping of American Industrial Relations, 1935-1958". 24 Law & Hist. Rev. (01): 45–113. doi:10.1017/S0738248000002273. JSTOR 27641352. 
  • Scheunemann, Edward. The National Labor Relations Act Versus the Courts, 11 Rocky Mountain L. Rev. 135 (1939)
  • Warm, J. Louis (1938–1939). "A Study of the Judicial Attitude Toward Trade Unions and Labor Legislation". 23 Minn. L. Rev.: 256. 
  • Woods, Warren; Wheatley, Altha C. (1936–1937). "The Wagner Act Decision - A Charter of Liberty for Labor?". 5 Geo. Wash. L. Rev.: 846. 

External links[edit]