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Wagner Act

National Labor Relations Act
Long title An act to diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce, to create a National Labor Relations Board, and for other purposes.
Nickname(s) Wagner Act
Enacted by the  74th United States Congress
Effective July 6, 1935
Public Law Stat. 49 Stat. 449
Title(s) amended 29
U.S.C. section(s) amended 151–169
Legislative history
Major amendments
Taft-Hartley Amendments of 1947
Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1957
Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959
United States Supreme Court cases
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (49 Stat. 449)


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation into law on July 5, 1935.[3]


Under §1 (

Various definitions are explained in §2, (


The National Labor Relations Board, which is established in NLRA 1935 §§3 to 6 ( The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board give legal advice. Sections 4 and 5 set out provisions on the officers of the Board and their expenses. Section 6 empowers the Board to issue rules interpreting the labor legislation. This will generally be binding, unless a court deems it to have acted outside its authority.

Under section 10 (29 USC §160) the NLRB is empowered to prevent unfair labor practices, which may ultimately be reviewed by the courts. Under section 11 it can lead investigations, collect evidence, issue subpoenas, and require witnesses to give evidence. Under section 12 it is an offense for people to unduly interfere with the Board's conduct.

Collective bargaining

Section 7 (

Specific rules in support of collective bargaining are as follows.

  • There can be only one exclusive bargaining representative for a unit of employees.
  • Promotion of the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.
  • Employers are compelled to bargain with the representative of its employees.
  • Employees are allowed to discuss wages.[8][9][10]

Unfair labor practices

Main article: Unfair labor practice

Under section 8 ( The first five unfair labor practices aimed at employers are in section 8(a). These are,

  • (a)(1) "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7". This includes freedom of association, mutual aid or protection, self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively for wages and working conditions through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other protected concerted activities with or without a union.
  • (a)(2) "to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it"
  • (a)(3) "by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization"
  • (a)(4) discriminating against employees who file charges or testify.
  • (a)(5) refusing to bargain collectively with the representative of the employer's employees.

In addition, added by the Taft-Hartley Act 1947, there are seven unfair labor practices aimed at unions and employees.

Election of bargaining representatives

Under section 9 (§ 159) the people elected by a majority of the workforce have the right to become the exclusive representatives of workers in collective bargaining with the employer.


The NLRA 1935 does not cover two main groups of employees: those working for the government, and in the railway or airline industries. Section 2(2) (29 USC §152(2)) states that the Act does not apply to employees of the "United States or any wholly owned Government corporation, or any Federal Reserve Bank, or any State or political subdivision thereof, or any person subject to the Railway Labor Act". Under section 19, people who have religious convictions against joining a trade union are entitled to not associate or financially support it.


The act was bitterly opposed by the Republican Party and business groups. The American Liberty League viewed the act as a threat to freedom and engaged in a campaign of opposition in order to repeal these "socialist" efforts. This included encouraging employers to refuse to comply with the NLRA and supporting the nationwide filing of injunctions to keep the NLRB from functioning. This campaign continued until the NLRA was found constitutional by the Supreme Court in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (1937).

Labor groups, while overwhelmingly supportive, expressed a set of reservations. The American Federation of Labor and some employers accused the NLRB of favoring the Congress of Industrial Organizations, particularly when determining whether to hold union elections in plant-wide, or wall-to-wall, units, which the CIO usually sought, or to hold separate elections in separate craft units, which the craft unions in the AFL favored. While the NLRB initially favored plant-wide units, which tacitly favored the CIO's industrial unionism, it retreated to a compromise position several years later under pressure from Congress that allowed craft unions to seek separate representation of smaller groups of workers at the same time that another union was seeking a wall-to-wall unit.

Employers and their allies in Congress also criticized the NLRB for its expansive definition of "employee" and for allowing supervisors and plant guards to form unions, sometimes affiliated with the unions that represented the employees whom they were supposed to supervise or police. Many accused the NLRB of a general pro-union and anti-employer bias, pointing to the Board's controversial decisions in such areas as employer free speech and "mixed motive" cases, in which the NLRB held that an employer violated the Act by using misconduct that ordinarily would not result in termination to fire an employee who was engaged in pro-union activity. In addition, employers campaigned over the years to outlaw a number of union practices such as closed shops, secondary boycotts, jurisdictional strikes, mass picketing, strikes in violation of contractual no-strike clauses, pension and health and welfare plans sponsored by unions and multi-employer bargaining.

Many of these criticisms included provisions that employers and their allies were unable to have included in the NLRA. Others developed in reaction to NLRB decisions. Over all, they wanted the NLRB to be neutral as to bargaining power, but the NLRA's policy section takes a decidedly pro-employee position:

It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.

Some of these changes were later achieved in the 1947 amendments.


Opponents of the Wagner Act introduced several hundred bills to amend or repeal the law in the decade after its passage. All of them failed or were vetoed until the passage of the Taft-Hartley amendments in 1947. More recent failed amendments included attempts in 1978 to permit triple backpay awards and union collective bargaining certification based on signed union authorization cards, a provision that is similar to one of the proposed amendments in the Employee Free Choice Act. Under the NLRA, unions can become the representative based on signed union authorization cards only if the employer voluntarily recognizes the union. If the employer refuses to recognize the union, the union can be certified through a secret-ballot election conducted by the NLRB.

See also

Organized labour portal



  • Scheunemann, Edward. The National Labor Relations Act Versus the Courts, 11 Rocky Mountain L. Rev. 135 (1939)

External links

  • 29 USC §§151-169, Labor-Management Relations at the Legal Information Institute
  • National Labor Relations Act
  • National Labor Relations Board
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