Wagner Act

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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The Wagner Act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.), is the most important piece of labor legislation enacted in U.S. history. It made the federal government the arbiter of employer-employee relations through the creation of the NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD (NLRB) and recognized for the first time the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. The act overturned decades of court decisions that asserted that LABOR UNIONS violated an employee's liberty of contract.

Senator ROBERT F. WAGNER, a Democrat from New York, introduced the legislation in 1935, when the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT initially opposed the legislation out of fear that labor organizing might interfere with economic recovery, but gave his support when passage became inevitable.

Congress based its right to pass national labor-management legislation on the U.S. Con stitution's COMMERCE CLAUSE. The act states that unequal bargaining power between employees and employers leads to economic instability, whereas the refusal of employers to recognize the right to bargain collectively leads to strikes. Because these disturbances impede the flow of interstate commerce, Congress may take steps to continue the free flow of commerce by encouraging COLLECTIVE BARGAINING and unionizing.

The Wagner Act established the rights of employees to organize, join, or aid labor unions and to participate in collective bargaining through their representatives. The act also authorized unions to take "concerted action" for these purposes. This meant that workers could lawfully strike and take other peaceful action as a way of placing pressure on an employer. This provision was coupled with another that prohibited employers from engaging in UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES that interfere with the union rights of employees. Unfair labor practices include prohibiting employees from joining unions, firing employees because of their union membership, or establishing a company-dominated union. In addition to requiring employers to bargain col lectively with the union duly selected by the employees, the act set up procedures for establishing appropriate bargaining units (homoge neous groups of employees) where employees can elect a bargaining agent (a representative for labor negotiations) by a secret ballot.

The act also...

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