Labor Relations & Unions: NLRA, Taft-Hartley & the Civil Service Reform Act

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  • 0:02 NLRA and Unions
  • 3:39 Taft-Hartley
  • 5:32 Civil Service Reform Act
  • 7:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

The relationship between labor and management is governed by a set of federal labor laws. In this lesson, you'll learn about the National Labor Relations Act, the Taft-Hartley Act and the Civil Service Reform Act. A short quiz follows.

NLRA and Unions

Bob works at an automobile manufacturing plant where he is a member of a union. Bob's union is an organization of employees that is created to deal with employers on behalf of employees concerning employee-employer relations. This includes grievances, labor disputes, compensation, benefits, work hours and other conditions of work.

In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act. The Act gave most workers in the private sector the right to organize into unions and collectively bargain with employers as a group rather than on an individual basis. Workers, like Bob, are able to more effectively bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions as a group than they can bargaining as individuals - there's power in numbers.

The NLRA also created the National Labor Relations Board. The Board is responsible for implementing the NLRA and enforcing it. The NLRA is grounded on three principles. Let's look at each one.

One of the principles is exclusivity. The principle of exclusivity means that a union representative is selected by a majority vote of the union members, and once elected, he or she is the only representative of the employees for the purposes of collective bargaining. In other words, Bob must accept the union's selection of a representative and have the rep speak on his behalf even if he wanted someone else or wants to speak on his own behalf. The employer must deal with the representative, and the representative has a legal duty to treat all employees fairly - even if they are not members of the union or are opposed to the union.

The second principle underlying the NLRA is free collective bargaining. Whether to organize a union is left entirely up to the employees. If they decide to organize, a representative will be selected, as discussed above. The employer and union, through the union representative, will negotiate terms of employment, culminating in a collective bargaining agreement. A related concept under this principle is the fact that the law does not force the employer and union to reach an agreement.

If an agreement cannot be reached, then market forces and tactics come into play. This is where employees may strike, boycott and picket. A strike is a stop in work. A boycott is an attempt to convince customers to stop doing business with the company. Picketing is gathering union members outside the company's property to draw attention to the strike or boycott. Of course, employers can pressure with a lockout, which is where a company shuts down so employees can't work.

The third principle underlying the NLRA is the principle of structural autonomy. Bob and his fellow union members deserve to have someone that they can trust and who is loyal to them. The Act helps ensure this by requiring that a union representative must be the sole agent of the employees. The union rep is not permitted to serve two masters, which is why the representative must be independent of the employer. This helps achieve the NLRA's goal of preventing employers from dominating or interfering with the formation of a union or its administration.


Some thought that the NLRA gave union labor an unfair advantage. Congress responded to this concern by amending the NLRA with the passage of the Labor Management Relations Act, which is also known as the Taft-Hartley Act. The Act prevents unions and union members from engaging in actions that have been deemed unfair labor practices under the Act. Let's look at some examples.

  • Jurisdictional strikes are not allowed. These are strikes that occur due to a dispute over which union is entitled to represent employees or which union's members are entitled to particular work assignments.
  • Wildcat strikes are also illegal. These are strikes started by workers when the union leaders have not authorized it.
  • Political strikes are not permitted. These are strikes that are motivated by politics, such as opposition to a candidate, official or pending legislation.
  • Secondary boycotts violate the Act. A secondary boycott is a strike against a neutral third party, such as a supplier of the employer, in an effort to apply pressure to the employer through the pressure applied to the third party.
  • Closed shops are illegal. A closed shop was a provision in a collective bargaining agreement where the employer agreed only to hire union workers. An employer can hire a nonunion worker and require the worker to join the union. This is called a union shop.

Taft-Hartley also established the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Its job is to help resolve strikes that create national emergencies. For example, it may help resolve an airline pilot strike to ensure that national air travel and transportation of cargo does not come to a halt.

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