The National Labor Relations Act Turns 76

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) turns 76 today. This day should give pause to those who have been following the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Department of Labor (DOL), and the National Mediation Board’s (NMB) attacks on American business. I am thinking specifically of the Boeing lawsuit, the repeated attempt to unionize Delta employees, the lawsuit against Arizona’s secret ballot law, the NLRB’s new “quickie election” rules, and the DOL’s new regulations.

When the NLRA was signed into law in 1935, the law’s very constitutionality was challenged. The law was upheld in NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp (1937) by a 5-4 decision. In the opinion, the majority acknowledged the limited scope, saying the “Act does not compel agreements between employers and employees.” The opinion continues, “[t]he Act does not interfere with the normal exercise of the right of the employer to select its employees or to discharge them.”

In another opinion, the court recounts the Senate Committee on Education and Labor’s sentiment when they passed the NLRA in 1935:

The committee wishes to dispel any possible false impression that this bill is designed to compel the making of agreements or to permit governmental supervision of their terms. It must be stressed that the duty to bargain collectively does not carry with it the duty to reach an agreement, because the essence of collective bargaining is that either party shall be free to decide whether proposals made to it are satisfactory.

It was with this limited scope that the bill was originally passed by congress. The NLRA has been continually reinterpreted to give more and more power to unions. This has in turn taken away businesses’ ability to tell their side of the story. As we look back to the signing of the NLRA, it is also pertinent to look to the future. The House of Representatives is considering several bills that would reign in the power of the NLRB. To commemorate the original intent of the NLRA, Congress should act on these pieces of legislation and reinstate the balance between unions and business.