It’s a fair question: Is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) created in 1935 still relevant . In the years immediately following World War II, American industry continued to hum along, fueled by returning GIs starting new families in new residential areas called suburbs. Manufacturing jobs were peaking and union membership jumped from only 10 percent of the workforce in the pre-war years to a high peak of nearly 35 percent by 1945. Since the early 1950s, though, union membership has been steadily declining in the U.S., to a low of 10.7 percent in 2017.
With the decline of manufacturing and union membership, as well as the political environment over the past 20 years or so, the NLRB isn’t in the news much anymore. Occasionally it will get involved in labor issues on a national scale, but generally only when a dispute rises to the potential level of a nationwide or regional strike that could cripple an industry or create serious hardship on a local economy.
Ask many younger workers today and many will likely admit they have never heard of the NLRB and few are likely to define its goals and relevance.
Revisiting the NLRB’s responsibility
In this blog, we will outline the NLRB’s responsibilities, to refamiliarize ourselves with its national objectives. Next blog, we will discuss whether (and if) the NLRB is still relevant and how its mission today has evolved to meet the needs of the modern service economy over the years.
Votes on union membership
The NLRB’s involvement with labor relations begins when workers within an industry wish to organize themselves into a larger bargaining unit to address grievances. Our current national laws prohibit retaliatory measures against individual employees engaged in unionizing activities. The NLRB steps in to ensure the election to unionize is conducted according to the law and without management or outside interference to supress workers’ access to the ballot box.
Serve to investigate and facilitate settlements
Organized labor and management frequently find themselves addressing violations of responsibilities under their signed collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Sometimes the CBA disputes are broad in scope; but they may also involve issues involving grievances by an individual or a specific group of union members or non-union managers. The NLRB serves to investigate the facts behind the dispute and mediate a settlement between the parties, working toward a resolution which both sides can agree to without a strike.
Administrative Law Judges
When an issue rises to the level of disciplinary measures (such as termination) against an individual worker or group of workers, the case may proceed to an administrative court for the final decision. Currently, the NLRB is served by 40 Administrative Law Judges to decide on such cases.
Compliance with NLRB orders
Upon receiving orders from an Administrative Law Judge, both parties are legally bound to comply. Most do. Some do not. The NLRB’s responsibilities include seeking to enforcing compliance through the U.S. Court of Appeals in the local federal court jurisdiction.
Supporting and furthering the goals of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935
While the original goals addressed by signing the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 may not seem relevant today, the same principles apply. Relationships between employers and workers are ever-evolving and either side may be tempted to take advantage of the other if they sense they have the political or social upper-hand. By continually reviewing, implementing and enforcing rules to keep the playing field level, the NLRB goals today are the same as they were more than 75 years ago.
Next blog, we will discuss just how relevant the NLRB still is.