Vol. 51, No. 8
From Supervisor's Guide to Labor Relations (SHRM, 2003)
An Overview of Labor Law
Three major laws establish the groundwork for labor relations in the United States. The following is a brief description of those laws and of the NLRB, which administers and enforces labor laws.
The Wagner Act of 1935 (National Labor Relations Act)
The Wagner Act (or as it is more commonly known, the National Labor Relations Act) gives employees the right, if they choose by majority vote, to have a union represent them to the employer to establish wages, hours, and working conditions. The act affirmed employees' rights to form, join, or assist labor organizations; to bargain collectively; and to choose their own bargaining representatives through majority vote. In addition, it established the NLRB to administer and enforce the act. The law identifies five unfair labor practices on the part of management: (a) interference with the efforts of employees to organize, (b) domination of a labor organization by an employer, (c) discrimination in the hiring or tenure of employees to discourage union affiliation, (d) discrimination for filing charges or giving testimony under the Act, and (e) refusal to bargain collectively with a representative of labor.
The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 (Labor-Management Relations Act)
This law revised the Wagner Act and was intended to balance power between unions and management. Taft-Hartley allowed employees to refrain from union activity as well as to engage in it. Also, the closed shop (in which only union members could be hired) was outlawed, and written agreement was required from employees before deducting union dues from paychecks. In addition, the law said unions comprised of supervisors did not need to be recognized. Employers were ensured of their right to free speech and were given the right to file unfair labor practice charges against unions. Also, certification elections (voting for union representation) could not be held more frequently than once a year, and employees were given the right to initiate decertification elections.
The Landrum-Griffith Act of 1959(Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act)
This law created a "Bill of Rights" for union members, and it regulates the internal affairs of unions. In essence, the intent of the act was to protect employees from corrupt or discriminatory unions. Controls were established on increasing dues, and also on suspending and fining union members. The act also tightened some of the loopholes in Taft-Hartley. It also prohibited former convicts from holding union office for the first five years after their release from prison.
The National Labor Relations Board
The NLRB has two main functions: (a) to conduct and police secret ballot elections and (b) to investigate and prosecute unfair labor practice charges.