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Labor and Labor Practices - The Wagner Act

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The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also called the Wagner Act after its sponsor, Democratic Senator Robert F. Wagner from New York, was enacted in 1935. With the passage of the NLRA Congress moved for the first time to lay out a legal framework for dealing with labor unrest. The act applies to all employers and employees involved in interstate commerce. Among the groups not covered by the NLRA, however, are domestic servants working in their employers' homes, children and spouses of employers, and independent contractors. (Managerial employees are also not covered, nor are railroad and airline employees, who come under the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act of 1926).

The National Labor Relations Act legitimized and codified the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively and to strike. It prohibits domination of, interference with, or financing of unions by employers; interference with the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively; the placing of conditions on employment to discourage workers from organizing; and firing of, or discrimination against, employees who testify or file charges under the act. And most importantly, it requires employers to bargain collectively with unions that it has certified. Violation of any of these rules is deemed an unfair labor practice.

In order to enforce these rules, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was established as an independent federal agency. An important part of its jurisdiction is the supervision of union elections and the enforcement of laws prohibiting unfair labor practices by either labor or management. The NLRB has the power to order employers to cease unfair labor practices and to order the reinstatement of workers with back pay when necessary. The five members of the board, as well as the general counsel are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate, the general members for five years and the general counsel for four years. The general counsel is responsible for prosecuting unfair labor practice cases.

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