On This Day in Labor History

July 5, 2018 - CLDC LMCC LECET

FDR Signs National Labor Relations Act, July 5, 1935

The president noted that “by assuring the employees the right of collective bargaining, [the new law] fosters the development of the employment contract on a sound and equitable basis … it seeks, for every worker within its scope, that freedom of choice and action which is justly his.”

In the decade after its passage, opponents of the Wagner Act introduced several hundred bills to amend or repeal the law. All of them failed or were vetoed by Roosevelt until the passage of the Taft–Hartley Act in 1947 by a Republican-controlled Congress.

At its inception, the Republican Party declared its opposition to the act, as did most business groups. The American Liberty League viewed the act as a threat to American freedom and engaged in a campaign to repeal what it termed “these socialist efforts.”

This included encouraging employers to refuse to comply with NLRB findings and supporting the nationwide filing of injunctions to keep the NLRB from functioning effectively. This campaign continued unabated until 1937, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., upheld the act’s constitutionality.

Labor groups, while overwhelmingly supportive, also expressed their reservations. The American Federation of Labor and some employers accused the NLRB of favoring the Congress of Industrial Organizations, particularly when determining whether to hold union elections in plant-wide units, which the CIO usually sought to do, or to hold separate elections by individual craft units, an approach which the craft unions embedded within the AFL favored. While the NLRB initially favored plantwide elections, it retreated to a compromise position several years later under pressure from Congress, allowing craft unions to seek separate representation of smaller groups of workers while another union sought to certify a wall-to-wall unit.