National Labor Relations Board

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a federal administrative agency created by the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) on July 5, 1935. The purpose of its creation was to govern the relations between labor unions and employers in the private sector involved in interstate commerce. Specifically, the act was created to protect the existence of labor unions, to promote collective bargaining, and to ensure employees could decide whether they want to participate. Critics claimed that the act was unconstitutional because it violated the right to contract, injured the property of employers, and denied employers due process of law. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act and the board itself on April 12, 1937 in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation. The act and the NLRB protected the civil liberties rights of workers by protecting their free speech rights to picket and strike, and their rights of freedom of association to join unions.

The NLRB is made up of three members who are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate for five-year terms. Separate from the board is the general gounsel, who is also appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, but only for four years. Primarily, the general counsel is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of violations of the National Labor Relations Act, such as unfair labor practices cases.

The NLRB has two primary functions. First, the ‘‘honest ballot association’’ allows an employee to decide by secret ballot vote whether they want to be represented by a union, and if so, by which union. Second, the NLRB acts as a public law enforcer. Only the board, not employees, employers, or unions can enforce the laws established by the National Labor Relations Act. The board investigates actions or allegations of unfair business practices entered by any of the three parties, employers, employees, and unions. Remedies can be imposed by the NLRB to cease the unfair labor practice. If the actions continue, further civil or criminal penalties may be invoked.

CAROL WALKER

References and Further Reading
  • Boyce, Timothy, and Ronald Turner. Fair Representation, the NLRB, and the Courts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1984.
  • Johnson, Julia. The National Labor Relations Act. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1940.
  • Miller, Edward. An Administrative Appraisal of the NLRB. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1981.
  • Tomlins, Christopher L. The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in America, 1880–1960. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U.S. 1 (1937)

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