National Labor Relations Board
What Is the NLRB?
The National Labor Relations Board is an independent
federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act, the primary law governing relations
between unions and employers in the private sector. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain
collectively with their employers or to refrain from all such activity. Generally applying to all employers involved in interstate
commerce--other than airlines, railroads, agriculture, and government--the Act implements the national labor policy of assuring
free choice and encouraging collective bargaining as a means of maintaining industrial peace. Through the years, Congress
has amended the Act and the Board and courts have developed a body of law drawn from the statute.
What Does the NLRB Do?
In its statutory assignment, the NLRB has two principal functions: (1) to determine, through secret-ballot elections,
the free democratic choice by employees whether they wish to be represented by a union in dealing with their employers and
if so, by which union; and (2) to prevent and remedy unlawful acts, called unfair labor practices, by either employers or
unions. The agency does not act on its own motion in either function. It processes only those charges of unfair labor practices
and petitions for employee elections that are filed with the NLRB in one of its 52 Regional, Subregional, or Resident Offices.
What Is the NLRB's Structure?
The agency has two major, separate components. The Board itself has five Members and
primarily acts as a quasi-judicial body in deciding cases on the basis of formal records in administrative proceedings. Board
Members are appointed by the President to 5-year terms, with Senate consent, the term of one Member expiring each year. The
current members of the Board are: William B. Gould, IV (Chairman), Sarah M. Fox, Wilma B. Liebman, Peter J. Hurtgen, and J.
Robert Brame III. The General Counsel, appointed by the President to a 4-year term with Senate consent, is independent from
the Board and is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of unfair labor practice cases and for the general supervision
of the NLRB field offices in the processing of cases. The current General Counsel is Fred Feinstein. Each Regional Office
is headed by a Regional Director who is responsible for making the initial determination in cases arising within the geographical
area served by the region.
How Are Unfair Labor Practice Cases Processed?
When an unfair labor practice charge is
filed, the appropriate field office conducts an investigation to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe the
Act has been violated. If the Regional Director determines that the charge lacks merit, it will be dismissed unless the charging
party decides to withdraw the charge. A dismissal may be appealed to the General Counsel's office in Washington, D.C.
the Regional Director finds reasonable cause to believe a violation of the law has been committed, the region seeks a voluntary
settlement to remedy the alleged violations. If these settlement efforts fail, a formal complaint is issued and the case goes
to hearing before an NLRB Administrative Law Judge. The judge issues a written decision that may be appealed to the five-Member
Board in Washington for a final agency determination. The Board's decision is subject to review in a U.S. Court of Appeals.
Depending upon the nature of the case, the General Counsel's goal is to complete investigations and, where further proceedings
are warranted, issue complaints if settlement is not reached within 7 to 15 weeks from the filing of the charge. Of the total
charges filed each year [about 35,000], approximately one-third are found to have merit of which over 90% are settled.
Authority Does NLRB Have to Secure Injunctive Relief from a Court?
Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act empowers
the NLRB to petition a federal district court for an injunction to temporarily prevent unfair labor practices by employers
or unions and to restore the status quo, pending the full review of the case by the Board. In enacting this provision, Congress
was concerned that delays inherent in the administrative processing of unfair labor practice charges, in certain instances,
would frustrate the Act's remedial objectives. In determining whether the use of Section 10(j) is appropriate in a particular
case, the principal question is whether injunctive relief is necessary to preserve the Board's ability to effectively remedy
the unfair labor practice alleged, and whether the alleged violator would otherwise reap the benefits of its violation.
NLRB procedures, after deciding to issue an unfair labor practice complaint, the General Counsel may request authorization
from the five-member Board to seek injunctive relief. After considering documents submitted by the General Counsel, the Board
votes on whether to authorize injunctive proceedings. If a majority votes to do so, the General Counsel, through his regional
staff, files the case with an appropriate federal district court. The court may grant such temporary relief as it deems "just
and proper". The order, subject to appeal in a U.S. Court of Appeals, remains in effect while the Board fully adjudicates
the merits of the unfair practice complaint or until the case is settled.
In addition, Section 10(l) of the Act requires
the Board to seek a temporary federal court injunction against certain forms of union misconduct, principally involving "secondary
boycotts" and "recognitional picketing." Finally, under Section 10(e), the Board may ask a federal court of
appeals to enjoin conduct that the Board has found to be unlawful.
Glossary of NLRB Terms
charge--An allegation made
by an individual, employer or labor organization of an unfair labor practice under the Act. Charges are filed at NLRB's regional
complaint--If, after investigating a charge, the regional office finds merit and no settlement is reached, the
Regional Director serves a complaint in the name of the Board stating the unfair labor practices and containing a notice of
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The complaint does not constitute a finding of wrongdoing but raises issues to
be decided by the judge.
administrative law judge--As with other federal agencies (such as the Labor Department or Social
Security Administration), the NLRB has a corps of judges who conduct hearings at which the parties present evidence. These
judges work for the NLRB (i.e., they are not federal district court judges). Decisions of Administrative Law Judges can be
appealed to the five-member Board in Washington, D.C.
good faith bargaining--Section 8(d) of the Act states in part: "To
bargain collectively is the performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to
meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment,
or the negotiation of an agreement or any question arising thereunder, and the execution of a written contract incorporating
any agreement reached if requested by either party, but such obligation does not compel either party to agree to a proposal
or require the making of a concession..."
impasse--A deadlock in negotiating between management and officials over
terms and conditions of employment. Whether and impasse in bargaining exists "is a matter of judgment," the Board
said in its 1967 decision in Taft Broadcasting Co. v. AFTRA, and depends on such factors as "bargaining history, the
good faith of the parties in negotiations, the length of the negotiations, the importance of the issue or issues as to which
there is disagreement, the contemporaneous understanding of the parties as to the state of negotiations."