The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency of the United States government charged with conducting elections for labor union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices may involve union-related situations or instances of protected concerted activity.
In order to determine if the National Labor Relations Act applies to a particular case, courts look to the following factors: (1) whether or not there is a labor dispute as defined under the NLRA, (2) Whether the employer’s business activity is “commerce” under the definition offer in the NLRA, (3) Or whether or not the activity falls under activity that is “affecting commerce” under the NLRA. The NLRB has discretion to decline to exercise jurisdiction if interstate activities are only minimal and may leave settlement of disputes to appropriate state or local agencies.
The NLRA seeks to limit industrial strife among employers, employees, and labor organizations which could hinder full production in the United States economy. ... In addition to defining and protecting the rights of these groups, it also encourages collective bargaining and eliminates certain practices on the part of labor and management.
These practices are referred to as unfair labor practices ("ULPs") and have been singled out for their potential to harm the general welfare. Through the NLRA, employees are guaranteed the right to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers through representatives of their own choosing. If they desire not to exercise these rights, they are also guaranteed the right to refrain from them. The NLRA establishes a procedure by which employees can exercise their choice whether or not to join a union in a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB").
The board sank into a state of near-paralysis beginning in 2008, when three of its five seats became vacant. Because the board cannot legally make decisions with just two members, almost nothing was accomplished for 26 months as Democrats and Republicans blocked each others’ nominees. In March 2010, President Obama appointed two union lawyers to the board using recess appointments, which circumvent the Senate’s authority to confirm nominees.
NLRB elections, designed to determine if workers want to form a union, are not analogous to contests for elective office. Rather, they are similar to the process by which a constitution is written or a new nation's independence is declared. Union representation elections are therefore "constitutional moments." Shifting the analogy in this way draws attention to the fact that the major threats in union certification campaigns are directed toward workers as a group, as a consequence of forming a union.
In 1974, the National Labor Relations Act was amended to extend coverage and protection to employees of non-profit hospitals. Nonprofit hospital workers were covered by the original Wagner Act in 1935, but were excluded in 1947 with the Taft-Hartley amendments. When the new legislation was considered by the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, it was recognized that labor relations in the health care industry required special considerations.
The creation of the board was a clear victory for the union movement that was a crucial part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, and it ushered in a generation of union growth and relative labor peace. Since the 1980s, as unions have dwindled, Republicans and Democrats have accused each other of seeking to sway the bipartisan board toward workers or business.
The nlrb's role began to change after World War II. The Taft-Hartley Act (1947), in addition to expanding the board from three members to five, removed its power to prosecute, leaving it a solely judicial agency. And whereas the Wagner Act had focused exclusively on restraining unfair practices by employers, Taft-Hartley required the nlrb to examine unfair practices by unions as well. The Landrum-Griffin Act (1959) added further to the list of prohibited union actions the nlrb must investigate.
Furthermore, American involvement in World War II necessitated the creation of a National War Labor Board, which held enormous power over American production and industry. As could be expected, the new board quickly overshadowed the NLRB, but even after the war was won the NLRB never recaptured the activist spirit that had animated it during the New Deal.
The NLRA also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to administer and interpret the statute and to adjudicate labor cases. For example, when a union charges that an employer has committed an unfair labor practice — say, by refusing to bargain — the charge goes first to the NLRB. The Board, which sits in Washington, D.C., has five members, all appointed by the president. The NLRB makes final agency decisions about representation and ULP cases. But the Board has no power to enforce its orders.
A forerunner of the nlrb, the National Labor Board, was established in 1933 to enforce the collective bargaining provisions of the National Industrial Recovery Act (nira), but it had little power and was in any case invalidated when the Supreme Court struck down the nira in the spring of 1935.
In February 1935, Wagner introduced the National Labor Relations Act in the Senate. The Wagner Bill proposed to create a new independent agency—the National Labor Relations Board, made up of three members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate-to enforce employee rights rather than to mediate disputes. It gave employees the right, under Section 7, to form and join unions, and it obligated employers to bargain collectively with unions selected by a majority of the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit. The measure endorsed the principles of exclusive representation and majority rule, provided for enforcement of the Board's rulings, and covered most workers in industries whose operations affected interstate commerce.
During the last ten years, as a result of settlements, the NLRB has distributed nearly $430,000,000 to American workers in back pay for earnings lost as a result of unfair labor practices committed by employers and unions.