Time to Nullify the Wagner Act?

Roosevelt signs the Wagner Act: Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins in Background
Roosevelt signs the Wagner Act: Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins in Background
Ford Hunger March 1932, organized by John Schmies, communist candidate for mayor of Detroit
Ford Hunger March 1932, organized by John Schmies, communist candidate for mayor of Detroit
Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor
Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor
J. Warren Madden, First Chairman of NLRB
J. Warren Madden, First Chairman of NLRB
John L. Lewis, President of United Mine Workers and  a founder of C.I.O.
John L. Lewis, President of United Mine Workers and a founder of C.I.O.
Philip Murray, organizer of United Steelworkers; suceeded John L. Lewis as president of C.I.O.
Philip Murray, organizer of United Steelworkers; suceeded John L. Lewis as president of C.I.O.
Walter P. Reuther, President of United Auto workers
Walter P. Reuther, President of United Auto workers
GM's Rick Waggoner and UAW President Ron Gettelfinger
GM's Rick Waggoner and UAW President Ron Gettelfinger
Bob King and Alan Mulally
Bob King and Alan Mulally

TIME TO NULLIFY THE WAGNER ACT?

In 1935, a time of turmoil in the United States, the Wagner Act established the legal right for workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers over wages, hours and working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board was established to implement the Act and assure the workers’ new collective bargaining rights decreed by the Congress. Many considered these rights to be a key element in adapting an agrarian, free enterprise society to the industrial age and providing a democratic alternative to the Marxist model then being advocated by many for industrial societies throughout the world. Now, some in Congress and in several state houses, through legislative and budgetary processes, are trying to nullify the rights conferred by the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) seventy-seven years ago.

Although from time-to-time enduring slings and arrows from employers and from unions opposed to particular provisions of the Wagner Act or policies and decisions adopted to implement it, the, the NLRB and the Wagner Act, as amended by Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin, have been judged by many knowledgeable and impartial observers to be one of the most effective policies and regulatory legacies of the Roosevelt administration. The small agency never grew into a big bureaucracy and, in fact, it has actually shrunk from a peak of nearly 3,000 employees in 1979 to it’s current level of under 1,600 through constant efforts to improve its productivity.

Despite the sometimes difficult politics involved in the appointment and confirmation process for the 5-member Board, the Agency over the years has steered a remarkably middle course and is respected for its impartiality and adherence to the law in the contentious field of labor-management relations.

The genius of the Wagner Act is that it provides a legal framework for industrial relations that keeps the “heavy hand” of the government out of the workplace, leaving most problems to resolution by the private parties who are best equipped to solve them creatively in diverse ways preferred by those most directly affected. This is not a “made in Washington, one size shoe fits all feet.” Rather, the National Labor Relations Act provides for decentralized, private process that has served our country well by allowing widespread participation in the development of diverse solutions to workplace issues.

Ironically, of all federal programs currently under attack, the National Labor Relations Act is probably the one that is most consistent with the philosophy of devolution or decentralization being articulated in Congress by many Republicans and Libertarians.

One might think they would logically support a law and agency that maintain an orderly framework, based on the rule of law, for free collective bargaining between employers and unions with much less government involvement in the details of the workplace than in most other industrial countries.

The NLRB does not involve itself in the rules of the workplace. It’s functions are two-fold: first, conducting more than more than 1,000 secret ballot union certification and de-certification elections each year, with little fanfare, to determine whether or not workers want to become or continue to be represented by a union; and, second, establishing the ground rules and deciding issues involving compliance with them by the unions and employers in collective bargaining negotiations to assure that the promise of the Wagner Act is realized. Although there is considerable potential for conflict in both of these roles, the Board for the past seventy-six years has conducted secret ballot elections and refereed the collective bargaining process in a remarkably efficient and impartial way. The courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have always stood ready to tell the Board when and if it has strayed in its interpretation of the law. In about three-quarters of the cases the courts agree with the Board’s rulings.

The National Labor Relations Act does not provide for fines or sanctions even for the most egregious and willful violations of worker rights to organize and bargain collectively nor for unlawful union actions against employers. It is intended to be a remedial rather than a punitive statute.

Now, certain members of Congress, in response to intensive lobbying by some employers bent on resisting the exercise by their employees of their legal right to organize and bargain collectively are trying through the budgetary process to extinguish the flame of industrial democracy. Similar efforts to extinguish collective bargaining rights for government employees are underway in several states supported by big money interests seeking to suppress political activity by unions. Clearly these efforts in the public and private sector are not wise public policy at a time of stagnating wages and widening income disparity. Slashing the budget of the NLRB and passing state laws gutting the right of government employees to bargain undermines a process for resolving workplace issues through decentralized, orderly and private processes that have served the country well for three-quarters of a century. Now is not the time to nullify the Wagner Act.

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Comments 29 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Well written and very informative. I think your call to a serious overview is called for.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Thanks.


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I reside in Michigan and could not believe when the Republicans passed Right to Work. I have not always agreed with unions management decisions, and the abuses of union workers. We cannot afford to give big business the keys to our future, but I am afraid if we do not protest, we will live a life of ruin.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Thanks, Jewel. I agree.


Gcrhoads64 profile image

Gcrhoads64 3 years ago from North Dakota

You say "One might think they would logically support a law and agency that maintain an orderly framework, based on the rule of law, for free collective bargaining between employers and unions with much less government involvement in the details... "

Republicans talk less government interference, unless it means fewer profits for big business.


AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 3 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

An important post. It amazes me that business owners routinely ignore or fail to understand the concepts that their businesses wouldn't exist without their workers and that their workers need and have a right to make a decent living from the labor they provide.


Gcrhoads64 profile image

Gcrhoads64 3 years ago from North Dakota

Exactly AM. Who is going to be left to patronize their stores when the majority of the population is eventually regulated to earning low wages and part-time hours?


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

If you look at the history of corporations and the crimes they have committed against humanity i.e. other countries, you would note a consistency, with the poverty associated with doing business. Mexico, Brazil, and many other South American countries have been used by companies, from the United States, to increase their profits. More than not, once they get a foot hold, the people are worse off than before.

Many times, it was crisis after crisis that convinced them to accept the aide, whether US political intervention, with aid from US corporations. If we believe that they would not do this to us, in our own country...check yourself.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 3 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Nullify the Wagner Act? Would the corporate moguls love that! Corporations have been trying to kill the unions relentlessly from Day One, as they say. The simple truth is that the capitalism they seek simply does not work. It's a Ponzi scheme. As long as the law recognizes the prime purpose of corporations (profit comes before all else) then the war against workers will continue unabated. Now the new corporate tactic is to gerrymander elections to give right wing governors and state legislatures power to kill unions and leave workers powerless. Unless the American people act quickly to reverse this trend workers have a very bleak future.


Gcrhoads64 profile image

Gcrhoads64 3 years ago from North Dakota

But, Americans have been brainwashed into thinking unions are bad. There is little support for them in the red states. It is sad. People don't realize that the only power workers have is to organize.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

That's true. Memories are short.

The GOP is attacking collective bargaining rights state by state with the effort financed by the Koch brothers and in Congress by refusing to approve Obama's appointments to the NLRB and challenging his recess appointees in court, attempting to cripple the Board's ability to make decisions on cases before it.


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

So what do we do? Ralph, you seem to have the most experience in this area, is there anything that can be done, other than writing my representatives. Been there, done that, several times. Debbie Stabenow, makes no apologies for her actions.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

In Michigan we need to work harder to elect Democrats to the state senate and house. The Republican nutjobs have taken over the legislature and the supreme court. It looks like we're going to get a new chairman of the Democratic party which may be helpful. I think Levin and Stabenow are pretty solid. Both of them had the wisdom and foresight to vote against Bush's foolish, unnecessary and costly invasion of Iraq.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Lobbying by business interests far exceeds that of unions. Many Democratic legislators' positions are influenced by lobbyists from the drug, coal, oil, electric power industries, not to mention the N.R.A. For example, Michigan's long serving Democratic congressman, John Dingle until recently was on the board of directors of N.R.A. and has been an ally of the auto industry on emissions, mileage and safety issues. It's pretty clear that the GOP's efforts to pass state so-called right to work laws has nothing to do with worker rights and everything to do with weakening unions' political activities.


AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 3 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

The right of citizens to lobby is in the Constitution, so of course the unions have a right to lobby; I don't see Republicans resisting the right of big business to lobby. Unions may be powerful, but they represent the little guy, and do manage to give ordinary workers a voice, despite some abuses over the years. Unions are responsible for minimum wage, overtime and safety laws and a whole bunch of other things that have made people's lives easier, and it was their lobbying that did it. In terms of the tension between management and labor, management has always had the upper hand, and the unions even that out at least to some extent.

When a business owner hires a worker, by law the two people have created a contract, either written or oral. Businesses hire lawyers all the time to negotiate contracts, and don't give it a moment's thought; why shouldn't workers be able to do the same thing via union reps? And why shouldn't union reps be able to represent those workers to Congress? There's a big double standard here.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Well, the unions aren't the ones pouring nillions into superpacks. Their membership has dwindled from 35% of the workforce to under 10% or thereabouts. They aren't nearly the factor they used do be. "Union membership in the private sector has fallen under 7%[2] — levels not seen since 1932. " (Wikipedia)


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

@Walt, it is this kind of reasoning which has brought the worker lower wages. It is a fact that business profits have been rising for over 10 years, while workers pay have become stagnate. If your argument is solely based on the premise that no one should be allowed to lobby, maybe one could agree, with you. As it stands, you appear to be more for big business and their interest, rather than what may happen to the workers.

The NRA had no real cause to send more than it had in the past, who was against them. The need for favors did not arise until gun control became a hot issue. Since the introduction of gun control, the NRA has doubled it membership.

Unfortunately, workers will not rise up against a system, until it becomes a burden to bare the weight of big business. Believe what you must, do what you do, but it is our future generations who will be left to fight the fight. It is the unending selfish desires of a generation, born without integrity, loyalty to community, and an never-ending desire to please themselves.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Walt, as you probably know Sheldon Adelman, alone, donated $70 million to Romney and perhaps other GOP candidates, not counting his alleged bribes to Chinese government officials to get a favorable ferry contract for his Macau casino. Nobody knows all the amounts donated to SuperPacs in support of Romney.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/sheldon-a...


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Employer groups have been trying to undermine workers' collective bargaining rights and the political activities of unions from the 1930s and before until today.

The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United greatly increased the imbalance between unions and corporate and billionaires' political activities. This is one factor in the tremendous increase in the disparity of wealth and income in this country between the middle class and the richest Americans. Growing resentment of this growing inequality is undermining support for our democratic, free enterprise system and it was a significant factor in Romney's defeat last year.


AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 3 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

True! I think unions can get greedy at times, but public opinion is an effective curb on their greed and their power plays. I've seen local unions back off when their demands got citizens riled up. There's no need to strip them of their bargaining rights.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Greed on the part of unions and workers pales in comparison with the greed of Wall Street Bankers, corporate CEOs and billionaire hedge fund operators. CEO compensation has increased from an average of 7 or 8 times the pay of workers to 400x for an average in 2011 of $12.94 million .

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-leadershi...


AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 3 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

Agreed.


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

So it is the Republicans that have the answer, is this your stance? I agree the union is not efficient. What I don't get is your disdain for the worker. I have never been in a union. Most of my life I have waited tables, and heard all I need to hear about how the workers, and union reps have ripped off the company. Yes, they did things they should not have, why didn't they change those policies, I believe everyone should be in fear of losing their job i.e. fired.

I do not trust a business to pay "fair wages." In the last few years, my wages have dropped, and recently was asked to pay the cook in a restaurant, because the boss felt, he deserved a raise. He even made statements that I (we) should pay him to work at his coney. I have had a degree for over 2 years now, Associates of Business, and Bachelors of Science, with an ABA approved Paralegal Program. I worked for a year with an attorney, she paid me 9 dollars an hour, 1099'd me for about 8 months. My second job, with an attorney, was 12 dollars an hour, yep I got a 1099 with her too.

You see I don't have much of a choice, the economy took a header, and I needed the experience to get a decent job. I currently owe, 33,000.00 dollars for student loans. If we give Republicans all that they desire, we will all be working for minimum wage, if that.

At least when the union had some power, there was a sense of balance between employer and employee. As a mother of 6 children I have put up with a lot, especially after my husband died. I don't know about you, but I am sick of men grabbing my breast and my crotch. It was this or I did not feed my kids. I am not a bird brain as I have been called, and that was one of the more pleasant names, while at work. I am not crying over spilled milk, I survived.

I am at my wits end. Why don't you go and work at Staples and see how wonderful your life might be.


Gcrhoads64 profile image

Gcrhoads64 3 years ago from North Dakota

"Unions increase the cost of doing business." Yes, if not for those damn unions, everyone could be paid minimum wage and the company execs and shareholders can make huge profits. Wait! That's what Walmart is doing.

As the unions die, so do the living wages of working America.


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

Gcrhoads64, Amen!


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

"In a line of decisions, the Supreme Court has addressed this issue and has concluded that compulsory union dues of non-members may not be used for political and ideological activities that are outside the scope of the unions’ collective

bargaining and labor-management duties when on-members object to such use. Seven Supreme Court decisions have held that union dues exacted from dissenting non-members may not to be used for political and ideological purposes and must be expeditiously refunded to dissenting non-members according to proper procedural safeguards."

[The same is not true of stockholders of corporations.]


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

@Walt: I appreciate your effort to communicate your ideas. When unions began the fundamentals were sound. Safe working conditions, no child labor, and a decent wage. I realize as many do, that the union abused its power. How to fix it? Maybe it should be scrapped and we begin again. Common sense did not prevail. I have waited tables most of my life, 32 years, and have heard much. There were many who abused the system, but there were some who gave it there all.

My father was one of those men. He was a construction worker and he appreciated the union. He paid, 26 dollars a month, seems reasonable to me. He received a meager retirement package, and medical while he was employed, but it was more than he would have gotten, had he been alone. In the last 10 years, I have noticed that as the union fails, so goes my working conditions.

Business owners know they have the upper hand, and they use it. I don't believe that all owners are like this, but lets face it, many are. The economy being in the condition it is in, does not help the situation. I believe we are going from crisis to crisis, to reduce workers stability. If they can make the workers believe they have no choice, we (most) will go down, without a fight.

Profits are up, wages are down, tell me how this makes sense. Money is power in this country. Many of our forefathers believed the aristocracy should make the final decision, appeasing the peasant workers, only to the extent to keep them manageable. I believe we are in a con game. I believe that both parties are to blame for this.

If you think I give the union guys a break, and pat them on the back, you'd be wrong. I am very vocal and let them know, when they didn't stand up for me,and future generations, they lost a lot of support. I don't believe they truly appreciated the advantages they had. I also, believe we are witnessing the death of the auto union, it's just a matter of time.


AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 3 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

We had a few big union battles a few years ago with the public union that represented the teachers in my area; contract negotiations were up and the teacher were complaining that they were overworked and underpaid and that they were being expected to make copays on insurance (they wanted no copays and no deductibles). They were being jerks. A few sharply worded letters to the editor of the local newspaper from the taxpayers (including one from me reminding them that a lot of the people who paid their salaries made substantially less than them, didn't have insurance, and needed some respect) made the union reps and the teachers come around, and the result was an equitable contract that everyone could live with. Public pressure is a very effective tool. Nobody's right to bargain collectively was taken away.


Jewel01 profile image

Jewel01 3 years ago from Michigan

I support union per se, but I am not in support of workers who abuse the system. Their are so many people out there who would work hard for the benefits they receive, I believe this generation, does not realize the cost, the generation before sustained, so that we could have a chance at a better life.

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