In the early part of the 20th Century, the average blue-collar worker at factories across the United States was an employee-at-will with little power in terms of negotiating leverage with management of the company he or she was employed at. Then, in 1935 during the Roosevelt Administration, congress passed the Wagner Act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act. This piece of labor legislation set up guidelines known as collective bargaining, that allowed for free and fair discourse while management and labor worked to resolve disputes involving pay, benefits, shifts, etc. This statute was later refined and bolstered with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.
The National Labor Relations Board was a new government agency that was formed specifically to administer these proceedings and later to impose penalties such as criminal sentences including prison terms, as well as fines and injunctions. The NLRB is comprised of a five-member panel, charged with making decisions during hearings, and one general counsel responsible for investigations and prosecution of employers who violate the Acts. These government officials are all appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. There are currently 30 field offices staffed with agents that regulate union activities across the country, such as secret-ballot elections. Any attempts to negatively impact private sector employee rights in terms of organizing and/or joining labor unions is strictly prohibited under these Acts and are considered unfair labor practices.
The first defined unfair labor practice pertains to interference with Section 7 of the NLRA: “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.” (“National Labor Relations Act”, para. 6). This definition broadly sets the foundation for the subsequent elaborations. The second ULP concerns attempts by either party to bribe current workers or union officials in order to either prevent or encourage the formation of a union. It also means that management may illegally seek to throw up figurative roadblocks or obstacles that increase the difficulty of organizing efforts and the subsequent processes involved in its administration. The third ULP mandates that workers cannot be discriminated against when companies hire, promote, transfer, or terminate workers, if groups seek to join or engage in labor union organization activities. In other words, threats, bribes, or quid pro quo manipulation on the part of either party, in relation to these HR practices, are not tolerated by the NLRB. The fourth ULP stipulates that employees that have grievances with employers and subsequently file complaints on behalf of themselves and colleagues cannot be treated poorly or let go as a result of the exercise of their Federally protected rights. Lastly, the fifth ULP prohibits management from refusing to bargain collectively with union representatives chosen by participating labor groups.
In my opinion, it is quite unfortunate that in the early 21st Century, the trend has been decreased membership in such organizations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1983 total public and private sector membership was reported at approximately 17.7 million. In 2011, the number is only roughly 14.7 million, although the population of the United States as a whole has increased by over 78 million people during that 28-year span of time.