Report disputes role of federal government in labor union participation, reveals forgotten purpose of the National Labor Relations Act

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A new Competitive Enterprise Institute report disputes claims by President Biden and others that the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) directs the federal government to encourage workers to join labor unions.

“The NLRA affirms the rights of workers to collectively bargain but only as a voluntary expression of the First Amendment right of association,” said Sean Higgins, CEI Research Fellow and author of the report, The Forgotten History of the Wagner Act.

“The role of the federal government with respect to labor unions, set forth in the NLRA, is to seek a balance between affirming the right of workers to collectively bargain and ensuring workers were not coerced into joining unions,” said Higgins. “To the limited extent the law recommends collective bargaining, it is only as a means to end labor strife that hurts the broader economy.”

The report delves into the extensive legislative history of the NLRA. For example, the NLRA was passed at a time when companies were accused of pressuring workers into joining company-created unions (“corporate unions”). Lawmakers were utmost concerned that workers not be pressured into joining unions.

“The free choice of the worker is the only thing I am interested in,” said Sen. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.), author of the NLRA (otherwise known as The Wagner Act), during 1934 Senate hearings about the bill.

The purpose of the law is particularly important now because pro-union activists and lawmakers are seeking ways to reverse the decades-long decline in private sector union membership. The PRO Act sought by congressional Democrats, for example, includes a multi-pronged approach to prodding workers into unions: shorten the time frame for union elections to as little as 10 days; broaden the definition of “joint employment” to make more workers subject to organizing; do away with secret-ballot elections; eliminate state right-to-work laws.

View the report, The Forgotten History of the Wagner Act: What Unions and the Biden Administration Have Conveniently Forgotten by Sean Higgins