The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB; referred to here as the Board) was established by the National Labor Relations Act (1935) as its administrative body of three members. The 1947 amendment expanded the NLRB to its present membership of five, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Functionally, the NLRB comprises several bodies with different roles: The 50 Regional and Area Offices handle routine information requests and initial contacts with labor and management officials; these offices receive requests for elections as well as unfair labor practice (ULP) charges; they conduct representation elections and certify the election outcomes.
The Office of the General Counsel offers general supervisory oversight of the 50 Regional and Area Offices. In addition, it investigates ULP charges and issues complaints where such is warranted. The full Board establishes general policies for the General Counsel and the 50 Offices. In addition, it oversees the administrative law judges, who hold elections under the act. In disputed ULP cases, the General Counsel acts as prosecutor and the Board acts as a judge. However, if either party in the dispute declines to obey the order of the Board, the General Counsel shall go before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking an enforcement order, after another hearing. This potentially long delay is one of the complaints about the act and its enforcement, thus allowing the employer to use the act as a chilling effect on employees’ actions.
The membership is naturally politically oriented as it collectively attempts to interpret and implement the provisions of the three statutes it administers. Over time, the Board’s philosophy has changed from an emphasis on employee rights to employer rights, and decisions of a particular Board have reversed the decisions of previous Boards.
Three statutes, collectively known as The National Labor Relations Act, as amended, were a logical expansion of the principles laid down in the Norris-LaGuardia Act (1932) and the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933). The National Labor Relations Act, 1935 (Wagner Act) primarily set forth rights of employees to join labor organizations and the responsibility of employers to bargain collectively with the employees’ chosen labor organization. The Labor-Management Relations Act, 1947 (Taft-Hartley Act) primarily laid down some restrictions on employee rights as had been exceeded in the preceding 12 years. The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, 1959 (Landrum-Griffin Act) has been generally viewed as a law to protect individual employee rights and addressed some charges of corruption within the unions. Thus, the purview of the NLRB is large.
Naturally labor and management will be critical when they do not win cases with the Board. However, the foremost academic authority on the act, Professor James A. Gross, has charged that the national labor policy favors and protects the powerful to the detriment of the less powerful and maintains that the current national labor policy is a failure, based largely on the administration of the act as well as the lack of enforcement power. Few academicians have written about successes of the Board or the act.
AFL-CIO; Labor Unions
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