National Labor Relations Act

Wagner Act

The Acronym

The National Labor Relations Act can be referred to by its acronym, the NLRA. It can also be referred to as the Wagner Act, named after the Senator Robert F. Wagner that sponsored the bill.

When and Why

  • This act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt and enacted by congress on July 5th of 1935

  • It was meant to protect the rights of employees and employers, encourage the use of collective bargaining, and to reduce certain labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses, and the US economy

    • Collective bargaining: The process by which wages, hours, rules, and working conditions are negotiated and agreed upon by a union with an employer for all the employees collectively
  • The NLRA was created to meet the need for new authority in the industrial market. It was created off the idea that people are vital to industry and should be respected.

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The purpose was to establish the legal right of most workers to organize or join labor union and to bargain collectively with employers. This act also had the purpose of making the federal government the regulator of labor relations. It would set up a three member (and later five member) National Labor Relations Board with the power to hear and resolve labor disputes through judicial proceedings.

  • Prohibits unfair labor practices such as threatening workers, firing union members, and interfering with the union organization
  • This act meets the need to control the employers and the employees.

Senator Robert F.Wagner, Speech on the National Labor Relations Act (February 21, 1935)

"There is not a scintilla of truth in the wide-spread propaganda to the effect that this bill would tend to create a so-called "labor dictatorship." It does not encourage national unionism. It does not favor any particular union. It does not display any preference toward craft or industrial organizations. Most important of all, it does not force or even counsel any employee to join any union if he prefers to deal directly or individually with his employers. It seeks merely to make the worker a free man in the economic as well as the political field. Certainly the preservation of long-recognized fundamental rights is the only basis for frank and friendly relations in industry."

Actions Taken by the NRLA

One of the biggest actions taken was the creation of the National Labor Relations Board

  • Members are appointed by the president

  • approved by the senate

  • Originally the board was created with three members but now they have five

  • The board solves disputes and issues rulings about labor relations

  • One of the great labor successors of the New Deal

  • Skilled workers were able to unionized because they were not easily replaced

Primary functions of the Board

  • to decide if an appropriate bargaining unit of employees exists for collective bargaining (when petitioned by employees)
  • to determine whether the employees in a business or industry wish to be represented by labor unions (through the use of secret ballots)
  • to eliminate existing unfair labor practices by employees or unions and prevent any other unfair labor practices from occurring

Walter Reuther - On working life in America before the Wagner Act

"Injustice was as common as streetcars. When men walked into their jobs, they left their dignity, their citizenship and their humanity outside."

Slogan Supporting the Revolutionary Thinking of the Wagner Act

Let Collective Bargaining Become the Instrument of industrial Peace.”

Impact and Effectiveness of the Act

The National Labor Relations Act was one of the great successes of the New Deal, and the single most important piece of labor legislation enacted in the United States in the 20th century. It created a better relationship between management and labor, and even though it has sometimes been seen as a failure, it has been very effective in achieving its goal of industrial peace.

The NLRA improved conditions for workers in many ways. Thanks to this act, private sectors cannot refuse to bargain with union leaders, interfere with unionizing efforts, rule over a union, or discriminate against union members or supporters.

The board has made it a priority to specify such practices that are deemed unfair that management must avoid.

Unfortunately for supporters of the bill, the National Labor Relations Act was greatly limited by the Taft-Hartley Act. The Taft-Hartley Act prohibited the closed-shop, which makes union membership a condition of employment, and allowed states to forbid the agency shops which charges a fee to non-union members, It also narrowed the definition of unfair labor practices, whilst broadening the definition of unfair union practices.

The Landrum-Griffin act was further weakened by banning secondary boycotts and limiting the right to picket.

As shown in the image below, many were outraged by the attempt of Republican business leaders to undo the work of the Wagner Act.

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Reaction of the American People to the Reform Effort

Republicans and big business leaders fiercely opposed the passing of the NLRA and wanted to return to the days where they could control workers' lives completely.

Workers on the other hand rejoiced over the fact that they were guaranteed fairer conditions in the work force. They had suffered so much injustice from large companies and industries and would finally have a chance to earn what they deserved. Skilled workers were not easily replaced so they would become more largely valued. Unskilled workers would still receive many benefits and better treatment as well.

The government varied on their views of the act. Democrats were largely supportive of the bill and the fact that they were looking out for the working class. Republicans viewed it as going against the best interest of business owners and management.

MLA Citations

"The 1935 Passage of the Wagner Act." National Labor Relations Board. National Labor

Relations Board, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2016

"Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum - Our Documents."Franklin D.

Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum - Our Documents. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

"Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum." Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, n.d. eb. 16 Feb. 2016.

"National Labor Relations Act." National Labor Relations Board. National Labor Relations Board,n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

"Walter Reuther: quote on conditions before the National Labor Relations Act." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

"Wagner Act." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.