National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935 and later amended by the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, in 1947.

The purpose of the NLRA was to codify the federal policy favoring industrial relations stability and employee free choice.

Although the NLRA covers most employers, it does not always involve an entire industry, given that some industries are exempt from its protection. For a list of exempt industries, click here.

The NLRA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of that employee’s union activities or affiliation. 

Also, employers cannot threaten or coerce employees for engaging in union activity, nor can they make promises to employees in exchange for their not engaging in union activities. For example, they could not discriminate against employees who join craft unions (a type of association with members having similar work).

For other acts that violate the NLRA, click here.

The NLRA’s employee protections also extend to employees who, although not affiliated with a union, engage in concerted, protected activity.

Concerted, protected activity is an activity engaged in by one or more employees with the intention of improving the terms and conditions of employment of all employees.

Examples of protected concerted activity include complaints from a group of employees about wage rates and benefits and discussions between employees about wages and benefits. Employers should not maintain work rules that prohibit employees from discussing their wages or benefits with co-workers, as such rules generally violate the NLRA.

The NLRA also created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is responsible for enforcing the terms of the NLRA. 

The NLRB, in addition to its enforcement authority, has the responsibility of conducting representation elections and certifying unions as the bargaining representatives of employees. The election process is initiated when a union or group of employees files a petition with the 

NLRB seeking a representation election. Employees who are currently represented by a union may also file a petition seeking to decertify a union as their representative.

Employers who either voluntarily recognize a union or whose employees vote to have a union represent them are obligated to bargain with the union in good faith in an attempt to reach an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement. 

Once the employer and the union agree to a collective bargaining agreement, the employer is not allowed to change its employees’ terms and conditions of employment without first seeking to bargain with the union.

The NLRA also places obligations on unions. First, the NLRA imposes on unions a duty to represent the employees in the bargaining unit fairly. 

For example, a union cannot treat a non-dues paying member differently from a dues-paying member. Second, the NLRA prohibits unions from engaging in certain types of strikes.

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National Labor Relations & Labor Management Relations Acts FAQs

1. What are the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act?

The National Labor Relations Act (or NLRA) is a federal law seeking to protect workers’ rights by granting the right to either form or join a union (or a related labor organization) and perform joint activities, such as strikes and picketing to address unfair labor practice and improve their conditions of employment.

The opposite is also true. The NLRA also seeks to protect any employee who wishes to refrain from joining such activities.

2. What is the role of the National Labor Relations Board?

After the NLRA was enacted, there came a need to create an independent federal agency to ensure that this act gets enforced. This is the role of the National Labor Relations Board.

While its main office is based in Washington DC, the NLRB also has several regional offices across the United States to make it more accessible to workers, worker unions, and employers to seek help from.

3. Should all labor issues be reported to the National Labor Relations Board?

According to the NLRB, most people who visit its regional offices usually go there to seek two things: “to file charges alleging illegal behavior or file petitions seeking an election regarding union representation”.

These issues usually concern unfair labor practices, current labor disputes, and other practices by employers that hinder their employees’ rights.

Other issues that are not under the scope of the NLRB include unpaid wages, lack of tenure of employment, lack of job safety, and discrimination.

Other government agencies address these issues. That said, the NLRB has a Related Agencies page that you can refer to for more information.

4. Are strikes and picketing legal under the National Labor Relations Act?

Yes, the right to start and engage in such activities is legal under the NLRA, but it will still depend on certain factors, conditions, degrees, and scale.

Some of the factors workers should consider are the strike’s purpose and timing and the conduct of the participants.

It might seem counter-productive since strikes can hinder the channels of commerce. However, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the refusal of an employer to accept collective bargaining agreements is what’s led to this industrial strife to happen.

There’s an inequality of bargaining power, and as such, the NLRA makes it legal to engage in activities that can affect the instrumentalities of commerce through strikes. This way, the flow of commerce, especially foreign commerce, can come back to normal.

However, as we mentioned, the NLRA doesn’t provide the fullest freedom. If an exercise by workers can lead to physical harm, such as attacks on nonstriking employees or management representatives, it would be considered unlawful.

You may refer to the NLRB’s Right to Strike page for more information.

5. Are all employees under the protection of the National Labor Relations Act?

The NLRA offers protection to most employees in the private sector, but not all of them. For instance, if you’re a professional employee, you can expect protection, but not if you’re an agricultural laborer or independent contractor.

Government employees aren’t covered as well. Meanwhile, federal contractors are legally required to inform their workers about their NLRA rights before starting their employment.

The NLRA also doesn’t cover those in domestic service or employed but live in their employer’s residence.

You might also want to check the specific details of protection provided by specific industries, like the construction industry or clothing industry.

As we have mentioned, it is encouraged to visit the nearest NLRB regional office for more info.

6. What does the NLRA state regarding conciliation services and rules between employers and employees?

For the advancement of national health and everyone’s general welfare, the NLRA encourages peaceful conciliation of labor disputes. This is especially true for industries that have an impact on interstate commerce. 

As encouraged by the Department of Labor, both parties may settle industrial disputes, especially to prevent irreparable injury, through a legal process.

In fact, government facilities are encouraged to aid in the integrated process, usually through an initial agreement and a Collective-Bargaining Contract.

Furthermore, conciliation of labor disputes helps employers and employees discuss amicably important concerns such as working conditions, pay rates, and work hours done within reasonable times.

The goal is to result in findings with respect to the concerned parties and make friendly adjustments of grievances if needed.

7. Does the NLRA have specific stipulations regarding representatives and elections?

Yes. To ensure that a valid election takes place among employees, below are salient points from the NLRA. Note that such an election may also be a consent election. Meaning it is done by way of a secret ballot.

  • There should be a properly designated representative of employees. Usually, they are important, especially for purposes of collective bargaining and for being the voice of employee representation and majority.
  • Each employer unit is determined by the Board, with the goal of ensuring that employees are given certain freedoms, especially in exercising their rights. It can also include equality of bargaining power, hours of employment, and condition of employment membership.

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