The NLRB: The Wagner Act of 1935

Written by: Brian Bain

The purpose of this website is to give you a greater understanding of the NLRB and the Wagner Act of 1935.  This website is broken down into five different parts: After reading the information:

    * You will know what the NLRB is
    * What the NLRB does
    * What the strucure of the NLRB is
    * How Unfair Labor Cases are dealt with
    * What types of authoritative power the NLRB has

  The National Labor Relations Act of the Wagner Act of 1935 was created by Congress to protect workers' right to unionization.  The National Labor Relations Board was created to enforce the National Labor Relations Act.  The NLRB conducts secret-ballot elections to determine whether employees want union representation and also investigates unfair labor practices by employers and unions (Smith, 1998).  The act guarantees un-supervised employees the right to self-organize, choose their own representatives, and bargain collectively or they may choose not to do any of these things.  "The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers or to refrain from all such activity" (Smith, 1998).  This generally applies to all employers involved in interstate commerce other than airlines, railroads, agriculture, and government. The Wagner Act also enforces the national labor policy of assuring free choice and encourages collective bargaining as a means of maintaining industrial peace.  Through the years, Congress has amended the Act and the Board and courts have developed a body of law from the statute (Reynolds, 1979).
    The Wagner Act makes it illegal for employers and labor unions to interfere with these rights and establishes the NLRB to hear cases involving unfair labor practices (Anderson, 1979).  "The National Labor Relations Board is an independent agency created by the Wagner Act of 1935 to oversee the laws, investigate and hold hearings on unfair labor practice complaints, take action against employers found guilty of unfair labor practices, and to determine the make-up of individual employee bargaining units, as well as to oversee union certifications" (Anderson, 1979).
    The NLRB must also make sure that employers do not discriminate against union members.  There have been cases where companies do not hire someone because they belong to a union or fail to rehire seasonal workers who join unions.  Sometimes employees are laid off because they are in union or the employee is demoted or transferred to a less desirable job or location.  On occasion employees are mistreated because they follow the rules of the union (Smith, 1998).
Labor laws grant employees the right to unionize and prohibits/allows employers and employees to engage in strikes, picketing, and lockouts for the soul purpose of having their demands fulfilled (Anderson, 1979).  Both federal and state statutes, as well as law and judicial decisions govern labor law.  It is also governed by the regulations and decisions of administrative agencies (Anderson, 1979).
    There are many laws that affect labor in some way, however The Wagner Act marked the beginning of affirmative support for unionization and collective bargaining by the federal government.  Sections 7 and 8 of the Act established employee rights and the enforcement of those rights.  Section 9 deals with the secret ballot election, and section 10 contains provisions concerning judicial review (Reynolds, 1979).
    "The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 created an administrative agency called the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)" (Smith, 1998).  The President of the United States with the help of the U.S. Senate appoints five members to the board for five-year terms.  There are over thirty regional offices throughout the United States that report to the board's head office in Washington, D.C.  There is also a general director at each regional office that reports directly to the general council in Washington (Anderson, 1979).
    The NLRB regulates the power between labor and management.  This board prohibits management from using unfair labor practices like discouraging union membership.  There should not be any discrimination in the hiring process.  Another duty is to regulate unfair labor practices by labor.  For example, when the labor force refuses to bargain with the management or they have an illegal strike or boycott.  The NLRB has created a sixty-day "cooling off" period before a work stoppage at the end of a collective bargaining agreement.  The board has special powers that they can enforce if there are strikes by the labor union that threaten the security of our nation.  Unions must file financial reports with the NLRB so that they can make sure that the unions are following the laws and regulations that have been established (Smith, 1998).
The current responsibilities of the NLRB include regulating power between labor and management.  The NLRB prohibits management and labor from using unfair labor practices.  The NLRB makes the decision as to whether or not a union can form.  The NLRB acts as a mediator between management and labor, which means that if a disagreement occurs than the NLRB must settle the problem.  Finally, the NLRB has to deal with complaints filed by the employees.
There are certain laws that every group of employees must follow.  In order to form a union every party must file a petition at a regional office and their needs to be valid proof that thirty-percent of the employees in that party agree with what is written in the petition.  A member of the NLRB decides if the petition is valid and a regional director does an investigation to determine whether the union is the proper union to represent this group of employees and if there are any other legal matters that need to be dealt with (Reynolds, 1979).
    When a group of employees files a petition with the NLRB many things need to be considered.  If the items in the petition are too broad, then certain employees may not be properly represented.  The reason is that employees have different interests and goals.  When the petition is to small it may lack the tools needed to bargain with the management.  There are four major things that should be considered.  First, the similarities of employees' amount of pay, method of calculating pay, benefits offered, hours, type of work performed, and qualifications required (Reynolds, 1979).  Second, it involves the physical proximity of workers and integration of tasks.  The third deals with the employer's supervisory or organization structure.  The last idea is the employee preferences.
    The NLRB hears thousands of complaints from employees about their employers.  "In a typical representation election case, a union, employer, or individual files a petition with the field office requesting that an election be held among a particular group of employees (referred to as a "bargaining unit") to determine whether the group wishes to be represented, or wishes to continue to be represented, by a union" (  Once again, when the union files a petition, it must show that at least 30 percent of affected employees desire an election must support an individual.  If the Region's investigation reveals that the petition should be processed, attempts are made to secure agreement of the parties on the issues involved, including the appropriate unit and the time and place of the election.  Over 80 percent of merit election petitions result in such agreements.  "If an agreement cannot be reached, the Region conducts a hearing" (  On the basis of the record of the hearing, the Regional Director issues a decision disposing of the issues.  The Regional Director's decision may be appealed to the Board.
    When an unfair labor practice charge is filed, the appropriate field office conducts an investigation to determine whether there is a reasonable cause to believe the Act has been violated (Anderson, 1979).  If the Regional Director determines that the charge lacks merit, it will be dismissed unless the charging party decides to withdraw the charge.  A dismissal may be appealed to the General Counsel's office in Washington, D.C.  "If the Regional Director finds reasonable cause to believe a violation of the law has been committed, the Region seeks a voluntary settlement to remedy the alleged violations" (  If the settlement efforts fail, a formal complaint is issued and the case goes to hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge.  The judge issues a written decision, which may be appealed to the Board for a final Agency determination.  That final determination is subject to review in the Federal courts.  More than 90 percent of the unfair cases filed with the NLRB are disposed within 45 days without formal litigation before the Board.  Only about 4 percent of the cases proceed to Board decision (Reynolds, 1979; 40-41).
    Since the establishment of the Wagner Act of 1935, the NLRB has processed more than 900,000 unfair labor practice charges and conducted in excess of 360,000 secret-ballot elections.  The Agency handles approximately 40,000 cases each year, including more than 7,000 representation petitions.

Works Cited-Bibliography

Smith, A.  (1998).  National Labor Relations Act - Wagner Act of 1935.  Retrieved October 17, 2002 from the World Wide Web:

Benjamin, M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914-46, 2nd edition (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1979)

Reynolds, Alan, "What Do We Know About the Great Crash?" National Review, November 9, 1979

"National Labor Relations Act," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2002 1997-2002 Microsoft Corporation.

National Labor Relations Act, 1935.  Retrieved October 15, 2002 from the World Wide Web:

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 Francis. The content of this page is the work and opinion of the author, not the faculty or
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