The National Labor Relations Act established the National Labor Relations Board and required employers to use collective bargaining. This lesson explains these labor law concepts.
The Formation of Unions
The early 1900s marked some rough times for American laborers. Workers formed organized groups so that they could bargain for and secure better workplace safety, wages, and hours. These organized groups of laborers were known as unions. During the Industrial Revolution and Great Depression eras, employers weren't known for treating employees with respect and fairness. Union members were especially resented because of their conflicting interests with employers. Employers spied on, interrogated, disciplined, and often fired their union members.
The union members responded by organizing in even greater numbers and creating a wave of sit-down strikes from 1933 through 1934. These resulted in violent confrontations with police, general citywide strikes, and factory takeovers.
The National Labor Relations Act
The National Labor Relations Act, also known as the 'Wagner Act,' is a federal law enacted in 1935. The NLRA is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that serves as the foundation for most of our country's labor law. Many believe the NLRA was enacted in order to ease labor unrest and get America's working-class citizens back to work in the midst of the Great Depression.
In short, the major provisions of the NLRA assure private employees the right to join unions, go on strike, and take part in collective bargaining without retaliation from employers. Let's take a closer look at the three major provisions of the NLRA.
The first major legislative provision is found in Section 7. This section is known as the real heart of the NLRA and gives a considerable amount of power to employees that they didn't have before. It says that employees have the right to:
- Form, join, or assist labor organizations. This basically means that employees can unionize, or form organized groups.
- Secondly, it says that they can bargain collectively with the employer. We'll talk about this concept a little bit more in a moment, but essentially this means that employees can negotiate with their employers using groups for more clout.
- Thirdly, it says that employees can engage in concerted activity. This means that employees can form organized groups to protest, picket, or strike against employers.
The next major legislative provision is Section 8 and outlines unfair labor practices. These are specific acts prohibited by employers under the NLRA or other labor laws. In other words, these are things employers cannot legally do to employees. Employers can't:
- Interfere with employees' rights to unionize or bargain collectively
- Dominate or contribute to employees' unions
- Discriminate against employees because of their union activities
- Retaliate against employees because they complained of unfair labor practices or cooperated with an investigation
- Refuse to bargain in good faith with unions
Finally, Section 9 vests power in the unions by stating that unions, if certified or recognized, are the exclusive representatives of bargaining unit members. This simply means that, if there's a union, the union is in charge and will do any necessary negotiating on behalf of the members.
Now, let's talk about negotiating. This is the primary reason employees formed unions. The NLRA marked the first time employers were required to use collective bargaining to negotiate with unions. Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation involving representatives of both the employer and the employees. The goal is to give workers a safe way to voice their concerns and opinions.
It's called 'collective' because the opinions of both sides, or the entire group, are considered. The concept is based on fairness and equality. Each side selects representatives, and those representatives negotiate on behalf of the group. There are two types of collective bargaining. The first is periodic bargaining. This type of bargaining occurs at irregular intervals, as problems or needs must be addressed. As a need arises, representatives are selected and the need is addressed.
The second type is continuous bargaining. This is a popular and proactive approach because needs are continuously addressed through the use of various permanent committees. When unions use collective bargaining, the end result is put into a collective bargaining agreement. This is a formal, written contract memorializing the bargaining agreement. The agreement can be drafted and amended just like any other written contract.
The National Labor Relations Board
The NLRA also established the National Labor Relations Board, or the NLRB. This board is an independent federal agency that safeguards employees' rights to organize and unionize and works to remedy unfair labor practices. Generally speaking, the NLRB enforces the rights given to employees through the NLRA. The NLRB gives the NLRA its power.
The NLRB has just two primary functions:
- It oversees elections held by workers to decide if they will be represented by a union
- It prosecutes violations of the NLRA
Let's review. The National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, was enacted in 1935 amid nationwide labor strikes and during the Great Depression. It serves as the framework for almost all labor law in this country.
For the first time, employers were required to use collective bargaining when negotiating with employees. This is the process of negotiation involving representatives of both the employer and the employees. The goal is to give workers a safe way to voice their concerns and opinions. When unions use collective bargaining, the end result is memorialized in a formal, written agreement that resembles a contract. This is called a collective bargaining agreement.
The real spirit of the NLRA is found in Section 7. This section gives several rights to employees that they simply didn't have before the NLRA:
- To form, join, or assist labor organizations
- To bargain collectively with the employer
- To engage in concerted activity
While Section 7 gives power to employees, Section 8 outlines prohibitions on employers. These things are illegal and considered to be unfair labor practices:
- Interfering with employees' rights to unionize or bargain collectively
- Dominating or contributing to employees' unions
- Discriminating against employees because of their union activities
- Retaliating against employees because they complained of unfair labor practices or because they cooperated with an investigation
- Refusing to bargain in good faith with unions
Section 9 gives power to the unions by essentially saying that, if there's a union, the union is in charge and will do any necessary negotiating on behalf of the members. The NLRA also established the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB. The NLRB enforces the rights given to employees through the NLRA by:
- Overseeing elections held by workers to decide if they will be represented by a union
- Prosecuting violations of the NLRA
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Define collective bargaining
- Recall how the first unions came into being in the United States
- Explain the important labor law concepts of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)