National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), also referred to as the “Wagner Act,” is a law enacted by the federal government for the purpose of regulating labor and management practices. The primary goal of the Act is to protect the rights of private sector employees and to improve the inequality of bargaining power that exists between employees and employers. It also works to reduce problems within labor organizations and various industries, sets standards, and defines conduct that is included under unfair labor practices as illegal acts. To explore this concept, consider the following National Labor Relations Act definition.

Definition of National Labor Relations Act


  1. Legislation enacted in 1935 to protect the rights of employers and employees in regards to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices.


Established by Congress on July 5, 1935

History of the NLRA

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act into effect on July 5, 1935. The Act was created in response to failed attempts at regulating union practices. The NLRA’s predecessor, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 was implemented in order to protect collective bargaining rights of unions, though it quickly began to fail, as it had no authority to enforce its standards. President Roosevelt saw that the newly created NLRA would be backed by a panel with authority of enforcement, when he created the National Labor Relations Board.

The Taft-Hartley Act

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was an amendment made to the NLRA for the purpose of restoring balance between management and labor forces. Taft-Hartley gave employees greater rights, including the ability to refrain from joining a union without retaliation from the employer. The act also created the Federal Mediation Service, which works to mediate labor disputes in an effort to prevent the need for litigation.

Enforcement of the NLRA

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) is in charge of enforcing the NLRA as established in sections 3 to 6 of the Act. These sections specify that the board is in charge of helping employees or labor representatives bear some of the costs that come with the litigation process should their rights be violated. It also outlines the basic functions of the NLRB, which are:

  1. Overseeing the process in which employees choose to become part of a labor organization
  2. Prosecuting employers that prevent or discourage employees from choosing to become part of a labor organization

Other Duties of the National Labor Relations Board

In addition to enforcing collective bargaining and other provisions of the NLRA, the National Labor Relations Board has the authority to:

  1. Oversee elections that workers hold in order to appoint a union representative
  2. Prosecute entities found in violation of the NLRA

The NLRB is headquartered in Washington, D.C., but has over 30 offices around the United States. When a complaint against an employer is filed, it is handled through the closest regional office.

Collective Bargaining

The NLRA specifies that employees have the right to engage in collective bargaining, and that employers cannot prevent or discourage this activity. Collective bargaining is the process of negotiations for fair working conditions, wages, and other employment related issues. Groups of union employees elect a representative from the union to deal directly with the employer in the collective bargaining process.

According to the NLRA, specific rules for collective bargaining include:

  1. Establishing a limit of one exclusive bargaining representative for each unit of employees
  2. Requiring employers to bargain with employee union representatives
  3. Giving employees freedom to discuss wages

Unfair Labor Practices

The NLRA prohibits specific actions deemed to be “unfair labor practices.” While the list is extensive, there are five main practices prohibited by the Act:

  1. Interfering or restraining employees from forming, joining, or aiding labor unions, or preventing them from collectively bargaining for fair wages and working conditions
  2. Interfering with the formation of a labor organization
  3. Discriminating against employees based on their relationship with labor unions
  4. Discriminating or retaliating against employees who testify or file charges based on unfair labor practices
  5. Refusing to collectively bargain with employee representatives

Exclusions of the NLRA

While the Act pertains to a broad of workers in the United States, it does not apply to all workers. Workers not covered under the NLRA include:

  • Independent contractors
  • State government workers
  • Local government workers
  • Federal government workers
  • Domestic workers
  • Agricultural employees
  • Workers protected under the Railway Labor Act
  • Workers with religious convictions that do not allow the joining of a labor union

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Authority – The right or power to make decisions, give orders, or to control something or someone.
  • Collective Bargaining – A negotiation process that takes place between employers and employees with a goal of agreeing on working conditions.
  • Mediation – A meeting between two conflicting parties in order to reach an agreement.
  • Union – An association of workers formed in order to protect the rights of employees.