National Labor Relations Board

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National Labor Relations Board

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency in the executive branch of the U.S. government. Created in 1934, it has the power to regulate labor unions and to investigate and resolve charges of unfair labor practices by both employers and unions.

Labor unions formed in the United States during the Industrial Revolution after the American Civil War (1861–65). It was a period during which workers faced long hours, poor wages, and unsafe conditions in factories across the country. Workers organized into unions to have greater power in negotiating with their employers for better working conditions.

Businesses opposed unions from the start. They considered unions to be criminal conspiracies under state laws and illegal under federal antitrust laws. The result was decades of violence between union members, employers, and law enforcement.

The federal government eventually decided to pass laws to regulate labor unions. The Railway Labor Act of 1926 created rules for unions in the railroad industry . The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933 created rules for unions in industries that affected interstate commerce.

U.S. senator Robert F. Wagner (1877–1953) of New York did not think the NIRA did enough to empower unions under federal laws. In March 1934, Wagner introduced a bill in Congress to strengthen the NIRA. The bill would prevent unfair labor practices by employers against unions and their members.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt 's (1882–1945; served 1933–45) administration opposed Wagner's bill. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression (1929–41), and the administration believed that helping businesses recover was the nation's top priority. Some people in the administration, including Hugh S. Johnson (1882–1942) of the National Recovery Administration, believed that union strikes and similar tactics were forms of treason.

To encourage defeat of Wagner's bill, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order number 6763 in June 1934. The order created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Roosevelt used the NIRA to empower the NLRB to hold elections for unions, to regulate collective bargaining between unions and employers, and to investigate labor disputes upon request.

By the end of 1934, it was apparent that the NLRB was not going to be effective without further political action. In February 1935, Wagner resubmitted his bill to Congress. It passed as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in May. The act made the NLRB an independent agency and gave employees the right to hold secret ballots for selecting unions by industry. The NLRB would regulate such elections, and employers had to recognize unions chosen in such elections. Under the act, the NLRB received greater power to investigate and prevent unfair labor practices by employers and unions.

Businesses opposed the NLRA as being too favorable to unions and employees. The Communist Party of America also opposed it as being too restrictive of the rights of employees to form unions as they saw fit. Roosevelt ultimately supported the act.

The NLRA is widely considered to be the most prounion legislation passed by Congress in the nation's history. Subsequent laws restricted any gains that labor made under the act. Americans still debate whether federal labor laws and the NLRB are too favorable to unions by interfering with business property rights, or whether they are too favorable to business by restricting the organizing power of unions and workers.

National Labor Relations Board

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The industrialization of the United States created new labor issues for the young nation. Mistreated and dissatisfied workers found ways to work together in an attempt to negotiate better arrangements for themselves with employers. The increased activism of workers, mainly in the form of unions, and the negative reaction by businesses to the union movement led the federal government to develop regulations for fair employment practices.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) is the core from which much of present day U.S. labor law stems. The NLRA has its roots in the Railway Labor Act of 1926 and the National Industrial Recovery Act. Until the Railway Labor Act of 1926 (RLA) workers were largely unprotected in the workplace. The RLA, as applied to the railroad industry, was enacted with the intent to avoid work stoppages by employees and lockouts by employers. It provided an alternative to these measures by way of negotiation, mediation, or arbitration.

The standards first devised by the RLA were expanded in 1933 under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The NIRA was friendly to unions and employees. Under the NIRA, employees were granted the right to organize and bargain collectively through unions. Before the NIRA employees involved in union activity were treated harshly by employers and often faced firing for their union association.

Building on the standards set by the RLA and the NIRA, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The board is an independent federal agency created with the primary purpose of enforcing labor law in the United States. It set regulations to prevent unfair labor practices by private sector employees and unions, who had taken advantage of previous federal protection under the National Industrial Recovery Act. It also maintained and extended protection of employees' rights to organize and to use union representation in negotiations with employers. Provisions were made for a secret ballot to determine whether employees wanted to maintain union representation.

Although the National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that regulates U.S. labor, it can only act when officially requested in "petitions" (usually for an election) or "charges" (regarding unfair labor practices). The NLRB limits its involvement to cases that have a significant effect on commerce.

The National Labor Relations Act was an attempt to deal equitably with labor and management. Until it took effect, the laws shifted uncertainly from pro-business to pro-worker and pro-union, giving employers and workers at times too little protection or too few guidelines. The NLRA set a solid foundation on which industrial relations could be built.

See also: National Industrial Recovery Act, National Labor Relations Act, Railroad Industry

National Labor Relations Board

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency. Its creation in 1935 by Congress was in response to the National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act). Later acts, such as the Taft-Hartley Act, have amended the original NLRB.

The NLRB is made up of three principal parts: the board, the general counsel, and the regional offices. The board is made up of five members who serve five-year terms. It acts as a quasi-judicial body in deciding cases on formal records. The general counsel is independent of the board, and is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of unfair labor practice cases, as well as overseeing the regional offices. Members of the general counsel serve four-year terms. Both the board and general counsel are appointed by the president with Senate approval. The regional offices and its subdivisions serve certain geographic areas, and they are dispersed throughout the United Statesmainly in or near large cities.

The function of the NLRB is twofold. First, it determines and implements, through secret ballot elections, the choice by employees as to whether or not they wish to be represented by a union (and if so by which union) in dealing with their employers. Second, it prevents unlawful acts (unfair labor practices), either by employers or by the unions.

Congress, through the National Labor Relations Act, regulates labor-management relations, thereby giving the NLRB its authority. The NLRB, though, has no independent power to enforce its mandates; instead, enforcement is done through the courts of appeals.

One example of what the NLRB does was provided in 1995, when it helped bring a speedy end to the baseball strike. The NLRB secured a 10(j) injunction requiring the owners to withdraw their one-sided imposed changes to the negotiated system of setting baseball wages.

see also Collective Bargaining ; Labor Unions ; Negotiation


Gross, James A. (1981). The Making of the National Labor Relations Board. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Tod W. Rejholec

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National Labor Relations Board