Thursday, March 8, 2012

The National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act, NLRA, or Wagner Act (after its sponsor, New York Senator Robert F. Wagner) (Pub.L. 74-198, 49 Stat. 452, codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. § 151–169), is a 1935 United States federal law that limits the means with which employers may react to workers in the private sector who create labor unions (also known as trade unions), engage in collective bargaining, and take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in support of their demands. 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.

Under section 9(a) of the NLRA, federal courts have held that wildcat strikes are illegal, and that workers must formally request that the National Labor Relations Board end their association with their labor union if they feel that the union is not sufficiently supportive of them before they can legally go on strike.

President Roosevelt signed the legislation into law on July 5, 1935. The key principles of the NLRA are embodied in its concluding paragraph of section 1 including:

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.

The key principles also include:

* Protecting a wide range of activities, whether a union is involved or not, in order to promote organization and collective bargaining.

* Protecting employees as a class and expressly not on the basis of a relationship with an employer. Sections 2(5) and 2(9).

* There can be only one exclusive bargaining representative for a unit of employees.

* Promotion of the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.

* Employers have a duty to bargain with the representative of its employees.

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 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.

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