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The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act) is a foundational statute of
United States labor law United States labor law sets the rights and duties for employees, Labor unions in the United States, labor unions, and employers in the United States. Labor law's basic aim is to remedy the "inequality of bargaining power" between employees and em ...
that guarantees the right of private sector employees to organize into
trade union A trade union (or a labor union in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native ...
s, engage in
collective bargaining Collective bargaining is a process of negotiation Negotiation is a between two or more people or parties intended to reach a beneficial outcome over one or more issues where a conflict exists with respect to at least one of these issu ...
, and take
collective action Collective action refers to action taken together by a group of people whose goal A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, Planning, plan and commit to achieve. People endeavour to reac ...
such as
strike Strike may refer to: People *Strike (surname)Strike is a surname. Notable people with the surname include: *Alice Strike (1896–2004), last surviving female Canadian military World War I veteran *Anne Wafula Strike (born 1969), British wheelcha ...
s. Central to the act was a ban on
company union A company or "yellow" union is a worker organization which is dominated or influenced by an employer, and is therefore not an independent trade union. Company unions are contrary to international labour law (see ILO Convention 98, Article 2). They ...
s. The act was written by Senator
Robert F. Wagner
Robert F. Wagner
, passed by the
74th United States Congress The 74th United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, DC from January 3, 1935, ...
, and signed into law by President
Franklin D. Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the De ...

Franklin D. Roosevelt
. The National Labor Relations Act seeks to correct the "
inequality of bargaining power Inequality of bargaining power in law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its ...
" between employers and employees by promoting collective bargaining between trade unions and employers. The law established the
National Labor Relations Board The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency A regulatory agency or regulatory authority, is a Public benefit corporation Public-benefit corporation is a term that has different meanings in different jurisdictions. In so ...

National Labor Relations Board
to prosecute violations of labor law and to oversee the process by which employees decide whether to be represented by a labor organization. It also established various rules concerning collective bargaining and defined a series of banned
unfair labor practice An unfair labor practice (ULP) in United States labor law refers to certain actions taken by employers or Labor unions in the United States, unions that violate the National Labor Relations Act, National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (49 Stat. 449) ...
s, including interference with the formation or organization of labor unions by employers. The act does not apply to certain workers, including supervisors, agricultural employees, domestic workers, government employees, and independent contractors. The NLRA was strongly opposed by conservatives and members of the
Republican Party Republican Party is a name used by many political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a country's elections. It is common for the members of a political party to have similar ideas about polit ...
, but it was upheld in the
Supreme Court A supreme court is the highest court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry out the administration of just ...
case of '' NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.'' The 1947
Taft–Hartley Act The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft–Hartley Act, is a Law of the United States, United States federal law that restricts the activities and power of trade union, labor unions. It was enacted by the 80th United St ...
amended the NLRA, establishing a series of labor practices for unions and granting states the power to pass
right-to-work law In the context of United States labor law, labor law in the United States, the term "right-to-work laws" refers to state laws that prohibit union security agreements between employers and Trade union, labor unions. Under these laws, employees ...
s.


Background

The act's origins may be traced to the bloody Colorado Fuel and Iron Strike of 1914. Colorado Fuel was a subsidiary of Standard Oil, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. sought expert advice from the new field of public relations to prolong the settlement of the strike. He also recruited the former Canadian Labour Secretary (and future Prime Minister)
MacKenzie King William Lyon Mackenzie King (December 17, 1874 – July 22, 1950) was a Canadian statesman and politician who served as the 10th prime minister of Canada The prime minister of Canada (french: premier ministre du Canada, link=no) is the ...
to the Rockefeller Foundation to broker a solution to the prolonged strike. The settlement resulted in the establishment of a Management-Labor conciliation board, which evolved into a
company union A company or "yellow" union is a worker organization which is dominated or influenced by an employer, and is therefore not an independent trade union. Company unions are contrary to international labour law (see ILO Convention 98, Article 2). They ...
and template for settling labor disputes. Although a step forward in labor relations, the company union was effectively a public relations ploy that had the opposite impact of thwarting the organization of trade unions in the great organizing drives of the period. President
Franklin Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician and attorney who served as the 32nd president of the United States The president of the United States ...
signed the legislation into law on July 5, 1935. It also has its roots in a variety of different labor acts previously enacted: * National War Labor Board (1918) *
Norris–La Guardia Act The Norris–La Guardia Act (also known as the Anti-Injunction Bill) is a 1932 United States federal law on US labor law. It banned yellow-dog contracts, barred the United States federal courts, federal courts from issuing injunctions against non ...
(1932) *
National Industrial Recovery Act The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) was a US labor law United States labor law sets the rights and duties for employees, labor unions, and employer Employment is a relationship between two parties, usually based on contra ...
(1933) **
National Labor Board The National Labor Board (NLB) was an independent agency of the United States Government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States T ...
*
Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 The Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 was passed on April 8, 1935, as a part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician and ...
** including the
Works Progress Administration The Works Progress Administration (WPA; renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) was an American New Deal agency, employing millions of jobseekers (mostly men who were not formally educated) to carry out public works Public wor ...
("WPA")


Content

Under section 1 () 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 Inequality of bargaining power in law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its ...
between employees who, according to the Act's proponents, do not possess full
freedom of association Freedom of association encompasses both an individual's right to join or leave groups voluntarily, the right of the group to take collective action Collective action refers to action taken together by a group of people whose goal A goal is ...
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. Various definitions are explained in section 2, () 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 employee.


Enforcement

The
National Labor Relations Board The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency A regulatory agency or regulatory authority, is a Public benefit corporation Public-benefit corporation is a term that has different meanings in different jurisdictions. In so ...

National Labor Relations Board
(NLRB), which was established in NLRA 1935 sections 3 to 6 (), 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, () the NLRB 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. 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 () 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
subpoena A subpoena (; also subpœna, supenna or subpena) or witness summons is a writ In , a writ (Anglo-Saxon ''gewrit'', Latin ''breve'') is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial ; in modern usage, this body is gen ...
s, and require witnesses to give evidence. Under section 12 () it is an offense for people to unduly interfere with the Board's conduct. In practice, the act was often ignored when it suited political powers, most notably by Walt Disney in 1940 who formed a company union in violation of the law in order to prevent the Cartoon Unionists Guild, a Trade Union, from gaining a foothold in Disney Studios.


Collectively bargaining

Section 7 () sets out the general principle that employees have the right to join a trade union and engage in collective bargaining. 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.


Unfair labor practices

Under section 8 () the law defines a set of prohibited actions by employers, employees, and unions, known as an unfair labor practice. 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 Freedom of association encompasses both an individual's right to join or leave groups voluntarily, the right of the group to take collective action Collective action refers to action taken together by a group of people whose goal A goal is ...
, 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 The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft–Hartley Act, is a Law of the United States, United States federal law that restricts the activities and power of trade union, labor unions. It was enacted by the 80th United St ...
, there are seven unfair labor practices aimed at unions and employees.


Election of bargaining representatives

Under section 9 () 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

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 A Federal Reserve Bank is a regional bank of the Federal Reserve System The Federal Reserve System (also known as the Federal Reserve or simply the Fed) is the central bank A central bank, reserve bank, or monetary authority is an ...
, or any State or political subdivision thereof, or any person subject to the
Railway Labor Act The Railway Labor Act is a United States federal law on US labor law that governs labor relations in the railroad and airline industries. The Act, enacted in 1926 and amended in 1934 and 1936, seeks to substitute bargaining, arbitration and mediati ...
". Under section 19 (), people who have religious convictions against joining a trade union are entitled to not associate or financially support it. The NLRA 1935 also does not include additional measures to protect the rights of racial minorities in the workplace. At the time, unions like the
American Federation of Labor The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was a national federation of labor unions in the United States Labor unions in the United States are organizations that represent workers in many industries recognized under US labor law since the 1935 en ...
did not grant membership to black laborers while other unions like the CIO engaged in internal discrimination, providing more preferable jobs and seniority to its white members. Employers also engaged in discrimination against black union members by restricting their ability to organize and collectively barging with white laborers. The
NAACP The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a civil rights Civil and political rights are a class of rights Rights are law, legal, social, or ethics, ethical principles of Liberty, freedom or entitlement ...
urged Senator Robert Wagner to add a non-discrimination provision to the bill to protect against union and employee race discrimination. Despite pushes from the
NAACP The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a civil rights Civil and political rights are a class of rights Rights are law, legal, social, or ethics, ethical principles of Liberty, freedom or entitlement ...
and
National Urban League The National Urban League, formerly known as the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes, is a nonpartisan historic civil rights Civil and political rights are a class of rights Rights are legal Law is a system of rules ...

National Urban League
to correct discriminatory practices, the law was written without the inclusion of an anti-discrimination clause. The act also excludes
independent contractors An independent contractor is a person, business Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling products (such as goods and services). Simply put, it is "any activity or enterprise entered ...
, domestic workers, and farm workers. In recent years, advocacy organizations like the National Domestic Workers' Alliance have worked on the state level to pass a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, to extend to domestic workers the protections granted under the NLRA. Similar advocacy efforts are taking place on behalf of farm workers.
The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded from coverage about half the workers in the American economy. Among the excluded groups were agricultural and domestic workers—a large percentage of whom were African Americans.


Reactions

The act was bitterly opposed by the
Republican Party Republican Party is a name used by many political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a country's elections. It is common for the members of a political party to have similar ideas about polit ...
and business groups. The
American Liberty League The American Liberty League was an American political organization formed in 1934, primarily of wealthy business elites and prominent political figures, who were for the most part conservatives opposed to the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roose ...
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 A supreme court is the highest court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry out the administration of just ...

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 The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was a national federation of labor unions in the United States Labor unions in the United States are organizations that represent workers in many industries recognized under US labor law since the 1935 en ...
and some employers accused the NLRB of favoring the
Congress of Industrial Organizations The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was a federation of unions that organized workers in industrial unions Industrial unionism is a trade union A trade union (or a labor union in American English American English (AmE, ...
, 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 Industrial unionism is a trade union A trade union (or a labor union in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of variety (linguistics), v ...
, 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 shop A pre-entry closed shop (or simply closed shop) is a form of union security agreement A union security agreement is a contractual agreement, usually part of a trade union, union collective bargaining agreement, in which an employer and a trade or ...

closed shop
s, secondary boycotts,
jurisdictional strikeIn United States labor law, a jurisdictional strike is a concerted refusal to work undertaken by a trade union, union to assert its members' right to particular job assignments and to protest the assignment of disputed work to members of another unio ...
s, 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

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
Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 Labour or labor may refer to: * Childbirth Childbirth, also known as labour or delivery, is the ending of pregnancy Pregnancy, also known as gestation, is the time during which one or more offspring In biology, offspring are the youn ...
, or the
Taft–Hartley Act The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft–Hartley Act, is a Law of the United States, United States federal law that restricts the activities and power of trade union, labor unions. It was enacted by the 80th United St ...
, in 1947. More recent unsuccessful efforts 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 The Employee Free Choice Act is the name for several bill (proposed law), legislative bills on US labor law (, , , , , , , , .) which have been proposed and sometimes introduced into one or both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The bill's purpose, a ...
. 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. In the last decade, Democrats have sought to narrow the Act's provisions for allowing workers to be hired as independent contractors, thus bringing them under the jurisdiction of the Act. Legislators have introduced a standard for independent contracting termed the "ABC test," after its three criteria A, B and C. To be hired as an independent contractor, the worker must:
  1. Be free from the employer's control and direction in the performance of the current work;
  2. Perform work that is outside the usual course of the employer's business;
  3. Have an independently established business in the same kind of work as performed for the current employer.
Independent contractors and employers have objected to B, the limitation on working in the employer's usual business. Objections are based on the inconveniences and costs of meeting the criterion. For instance, it prevents small venues from hiring performers, even for one-night stands, unless they are hired as employees. As a result, in the California phase of the campaign, numerous occupations of independent contractors were exempted from the test in
California Assembly Bill 5 (2019) California Assembly Bill 5 or AB 5 is a California Statutes, state statute that expands a landmark Supreme Court of California case from 2018, ''Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court'' ("Dynamex"). In that case, the court held that mo ...
.


Legacy

The Little Wagner Act, written by
Ida Klaus Ida Klaus (1905–1999) was an American labor lawyer, known by the press in the 1950s and 1960s as the woman "who thinks with a man’s brain." She was born in New York City, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa The Phi Beta Kappa Society () is the old ...
, is the New York City version of the Wagner Act. Along with other factors, the act contributed to tremendous growth of membership in the labor unions, especially in the mass-production sector.Colin Gordon, ''New Deals: Business, Labor, and Politics in America, 1920–1935'' (1994) p. 225 The total number of labor union members grew from three million in 1933 to eight million at the end of the 1930s, with the vast majority of union members living outside of the
Southern United States The Southern United States, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, Dixie, the Southland, or simply the South, is a geographic and cultural region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally ...
.


See also

*
United States labor law United States labor law sets the rights and duties for employees, Labor unions in the United States, labor unions, and employers in the United States. Labor law's basic aim is to remedy the "inequality of bargaining power" between employees and em ...
*
History of labor law in the United States History of labor law in the United States refers to the development of United States labor law United States labor law sets the rights and duties for employees, Labor unions in the United States, labor unions, and employers in the United States. La ...
*
Duty of fair representation The duty of fair representation is incumbent upon U.S. The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America North America is a contine ...
*
Employee Free Choice Act The Employee Free Choice Act is the name for several bill (proposed law), legislative bills on US labor law (, , , , , , , , .) which have been proposed and sometimes introduced into one or both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The bill's purpose, a ...
*
Union organizer A union organizer (or union organiser in Commonwealth spelling) is a specific type of trade union A trade union (or a labor union in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States ...
*
Labor rights in American meatpacking industry Labor rights in the American meatpacking industry are largely regulated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which regulates union organization. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates the safety and health conditions ...


Notes


References

;Books * * * * * * * ;Articles * * * * * * * * * * * Scheunemann, Edward. The National Labor Relations Act Versus the Courts, 11 Rocky Mountain L. Rev. 135 (1939) * *


External links


USC §§151-169, Labor-Management Relations
at the Legal Information Institute
National Labor Relations Act

National Labor Relations Board
{{authority control 1935 in law Acts of the 74th United States Congress New Deal legislation United States federal labor legislation Trade union legislation 1935 in economics 1935 in labor relations 1935 in American law