industrial revolution led to the development of a large collective labor force.
Prior to the emergence of manufacturing and mass production, labor was spread
out and disorganized. Factories pulled large numbers of laborers together in
central locations, leading to the natural development of organized labor
Wages and working conditions were
the primary target of the first labor movements. Starting in the very early
1800s, wage cases began moving through the courts. Victory built upon victory
over the next 100 years including legalization of labor unions and strikes. Congress
followed court decisions with a string of federal acts aimed at supporting the
labor union effort.
The National Labor Relations Act
(NLRA) was enacted in 1935, This landmark legislation consolidated and defined
national labor policy by granting employers and employees certain rights,
defining illegal practices, and establishing the National Labor Relations Board
(NLRB) as the administrative agency responsible for oversight and enforcement.
The NLRA provided basic organizing
rights to employees. “Unfair labor practices” by employers were identified
which included interfering with labor organization, influencing labor unions,
discriminating against union members, or refusing to bargain with a legal
Enactment of the NLRA was followed
by a decade of union strengthening. The concept of a “closed shop” (meaning a
business will only hire union members) emerged. Numerous strikes, some leading
to crippling economic shutdowns, convinced the public and the Congress that
unions were gaining too much power. Corruption in unions became a problem.
Closed shops were banned in 1946
with the Taft-Hartley Act. Multiple amendments to the NLRA in response to union
abuses pulled back on the power of unions to control the nation’s economy.
Today’s version of the NLRA and
current activities of the NLRB bring more balance to the labor vs. employer