Since the early 20th century, Congress has continued to enact legislation to protect the rights of workers in their dealings with employers. Recognizing that most workers did not have equal bargaining power with management, and that many workers suffered as a result, Congress enacted legislation granting specific rights to employees, and prohibiting certain acts by employers. In the wake of federal legislation, the states have also passed laws protecting workers, addressing issues such as the right to form a union, the prevention of lockouts, and the payment of minimum and overtime wages.
In 1935, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), setting national standards for employer–employee bargaining and the formation and perpetuation of unions. Most employers and employees involved in businesses that affect interstate commerce are regulated by the act. It established the National Labor Relations Board to hear disputes between employers and employees arising under the act and to determine which labor organization will represent a unit of employees.
The act also establishes a general council to independently investigate and prosecute cases against violators of the act before the board. The rights of employees to join labor organizations and collectively bargain also are ensured. The NLRA prohibits employers and unions from engaging in specified “unfair labor practices” and establishes an obligation of both parties to engage in good-faith collective bargaining. The act also establishes guidelines and regulations to determine what union will represent a given set of employees. The act guarantees the right to strike.
The act was amended by the Labor Management Relations (Taft-Hartley) Act in 1947, which outlawed a number of union labor practices, such as wildcat strikes, jurisdictional strikes and secondary boycotts, and allowed states to pass “right to work” statutes that prohibited closed union shops (workplaces where union membership was mandatory). The NLRA was further amended in 1959 by the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure (Landrum-Griffin) Act, which required unions to hold secret elections, and protect union members from violation of certain constitutional rights.
Employers and employees not subject to the act may have their relationships governed by other federal or state statutes. The Railway Labor Act governs labor relations in the railway and airline industries. The employees and agencies in the federal public sector are subject to the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act, which is administered by the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
States extensively regulate the employer–employee bargaining relationship. They may regulate employers and employees not covered by the National Labor Relations Act.
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