National Labor Relations Act

Enacted in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that oversees labor relationships in certain private organizations that meet specific revenue requirements. For those companies that need to abide by the law, its employees will have a right to establish a union and further appoint a representative who will speak on their behalf. Such unions are common in those employers operating in interstate commerce. However, those companies operating in this industry that are not included are airlines, railways, agriculture, and government agencies.

In simple terms, the National Labor Relations Act prohibits certain employers from engaging in unfair labor practices. The NLRA created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to enforce such rights under the law. The board employs a president, which is approved by the Senate for a 5-year term.

The NLRA ha two primary processes by which a labor union can be certified –a card check and a secret-ballot election. Therefore, if one of these two processes takes place, then the union is certified and can engage in appropriate activity as deemed by the NLRA. The NLRA protects such unions to engage in protected concerted activity, which can include picketing, going on strike, and other concerted activities that the NLRA deems appropriate.

History of the NLRA

Surprisingly, before the NLRA was enacted, employers had the ability to spy on, question, blacklist, and discharge union members. In the 1930s, general strikes in cities occurred as well as violent interactions between law enforcement defending employers and workers forming unions.

However, by the late 1930s, a total of 800,000 women were in unions, three times more than there were in 1929.  By 1945, union membership hit a high of 35%; for that reason, opponents tried to weaken the NLRA. Unfortunately, by 1947, a number of industries, including the steel, automobile, manufacturing, electrical, and rubber industries succeeding in weakening the law by passing the Taft-Hartly Act, which provided additional provisions specifying that unions could beenjoined, prosecuted, and sued for various activities that included picketing and boycotting.

The Act also prohibited the closed shop (which is an agreement that requires union membership a condition of employment), narrowed the definition of unfair labor practice, allowed states to disallow agency shops (which was an agreement that required employees who were not union members to pay fees to a union to cover the union’s operating costs), identified its own unfair union practices, prohibiting unions from engaging in a number of activite that were otherwise allowed under the NLRA. In addition, several states implemented “right to work” laws that banned both closed and agency shops.

Another key revision of the NLRA came in 1959 when Congress enacted the Landrum-Griffin Act, which imposed additional restrictions on unions banning them from secondary boycotts and picketing.

Sections 7, 8, and 9

Section 7

This section is the main component of the NLRA and defines what type of activity is protected. More specifically, employees should have the ability to self-organize, establish, and join labor organizations; to bargain through appointed representatives of the union; and involveadditional concerted activities for the purpose of bargaining their rights under the union due to unfair labor practices. Section 7 also protects employees who participate in on-the-job picketing, protests, and strikes.

Section 8

This section defines an employee’s unfair labor practices. An employer cannot interfere with the union and its concerted activity. The employer cannot take any disciplinary actions, such as demotions, suspensions, discharges, or transfers. The employer also cannot make any threats or warning to prevent such activity from occurring. Therefore, such retaliation on behalf of the employer is illegal. If the employer refuses to bargain with representatives of the union, this is also illegal under Section 8 of the NLRA. Such refusal can include failure to negotiate, refusing to hold meetings, etc. 

Section 9

This section provides that unions are exclusive representatives of all unit members. Therefore, union members need not engage in any bargaining on his or her own as the union is represented by someone who will conduct such bargaining on the union’s behalf.

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