National Labor Relations Board: History and Purpose

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  • 0:02 National Labor…
  • 0:27 Structure
  • 0:58 Purpose
  • 1:52 Activities
  • 3:17 Example
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Unions can play an important role in the employer-employee relationship. In this lesson, you'll learn about the National Labor Relations Board and how it makes sure both sides play by the rules. A short quiz follows.

National Labor Relations Board: History

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency, which means that it is a regulatory agency that works without supervision by the executive departments of the federal government, such as the Department of Labor. The NLRB was authorized by the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.


The NLRB is made up of three different parts, including the NLRB board, the General Counsel and the regional offices. The NLRB Board is composed of five individuals who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for a five-year term. The term of one member expires each year. The General Counsel is also appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate but only for a four-year term. The board has regional offices all over the country in major cities.


The NLRB serves two important purposes. First, it conducts elections for private sector employees to decide whether they wish to become members of a union and organize a collective bargaining unit. A collective bargaining unit is a group of employees who bargain through their chosen representative with their employer regarding the terms and conditions of their employment. It also oversees decertification elections, which is an attempt by employees to remove union representation.

The second purpose of the NLRB is to prevent unions or employers from engaging in unlawful acts related to the employer-employee relationship, known as unfair labor practices. While the board is mandated by law to prevent unfair labor practices, it has no independent power to enforce the law; instead, it goes to court to seek enforcement.


According to the National Labor Relations Board, it engages in the following activities:

  • It conducts elections to determine whether a bargaining unit will be formed or a current unit will be dissolved. It ensures that both employers and unions are in compliance with the relevant labor law relating to elections.
  • It investigates charges by employers, employees and unions alleging that their respective rights under the National Labor Relations Act has been violated.
  • The NLRB will try to facilitate settlements rather than encourage litigation between parties if its investigation determines that there is merit to an accusation of an unfair labor practice.
  • The NLRB has a team of about 40 administrative law judges that hears administrative cases brought before it. An administrative case is sort of like court litigation, but instead of a court of law deciding the case, the agency responsible for enforcing the regulations at issue will hear the case. Decisions from administrative hearings can usually be appealed to a federal court.
  • The NLRB also will seek enforcement of its orders. While most companies and unions will comply with an NLRB order, if they do not, the General Counsel will seek enforcement by filing suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The party subject to the order has the right to have the federal courts review the order as well.


Let's look at an example to illustrate the NLRB's role.

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