National Labor Relations Act
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 is informally known as the Wagner Act, for its sponsor, Senator Robert Wagner of New York. It created the National Labor Relations Board (nlrb) and established workers' right to collective bargaining. (The right had been recognized in the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, but that act had been declared unconstitutional.)
In the spring and summer of 1934, half a million workers in many industries went on strike, spurring Congress to seek mechanisms for bringing greater labor stability to the nation. One of the nlrb's two functions was to supervise elections to determine if a union should represent a given group of workers. Its authority to decide which bargaining unit was appropriate for such an election--for example, a shop within a plant or the whole plant--came to be crucial. The American Federation of Labor (afl), the expected beneficiary of the Wagner Act, lost many of the nlrb's early decisions to the newly forming Congress of Industrial Organizations (cio). The second major function of the nlrb was to stop unfair labor practices on the part of employers, employees, or unions. Its tools were investigative powers, the means to encourage informal settlements, and quasi-judicial proceedings that could be enforced by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Wagner Act contributed substantially to the New Deal's popularity. Unions threw their support behind Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 election and helped secure a Democratic landslide at every election level.
Ultimately, however, the Wagner Act's impact for labor was mixed. Instead of recognizing unions' legal status as organizations, the nlrb treated them as agents of workers, with no existence beyond employee-delegated power. Also, the board's role as mediator weakened the strike weapon. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act hamstrung labor further by requiring anticommunist affidavits from unions and asserting that workers did not have to join the unions that represented them.
The Reader's Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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National Labor Relations Act
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“National Labor Relations Act,” The History Channel website, 2013, http://www.history.com/topics/national-labor-relations-act [accessed Dec 11, 2013].
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National Labor Relations Act. The History Channel website. 2013. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/national-labor-relations-act. Accessed Dec 11, 2013.