What Is the NLRB?

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency created in 1935 by Congress to administer the National Labor Relations Act, the basic law governing relations between labor unions and the employers whose operations influence interstate commerce.

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 carries out the national labor policy of assuring free choice and encouraging collective bargaining for 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. This section is intended to give a brief explanation of the Act to employees, employers, unions, and the public.

What Does It Do?

In its statutory assignment, the NLRB has two principal functions: (1) to find out, through secret ballot elections, the free democratic choice by employees about whether or not they wish to be represented by a union in dealing with their employers and, if so, by which union; (2) to prevent and remedy unlawful acts, called unfair labor practices, by either employers or unions.

The Act's election provisions provide the authority for conducting representation elections, which determine the views of the employees regarding representation by a labor union. It's unfair labor practice provisions place certain restrictions on actions of both employers and labor organizations in their relations with employees, and with each other.

The agency does not act on its own initiative in either function. It processes only those charges of unfair labor practices and petitions for employee elections which are filed with the NLRB in one of its Regional, Subregional, or Resident Offices.

The staff in each office is available to help the public with inquiries concerning the Act and to provide appropriate forms and other technical assistance to those who wish to file charges or petitions.

What Does the Act Provide?

  • The Act sets forth the basic rights of employees as follows:
  • To self-organize;
  • To form, join, or assist labor organizations;
  • To bargain collectively about wages and working conditions through representatives of their own choosing;
  • To engage in other protected "concerted activities," that is, to act together for purposes of collective bargaining, or other mutual aid or protection;
  • To refrain from any of these activities. (However, a union and employer may, in a state where such agreements are allowed, reach a lawful union security clause.)

The Act prohibits both employers and unions from violating these employee rights. As an example, an employer may not discriminate against employees regarding hiring, discharge, or working conditions because of their union activities. A union may not engage in acts of violence against employees who refrain from union activity. These example s are for illustration only.

For further information about employer and union unfair labor practices, refer to The National Labor Relations Board and You: Unfair Labor Practices, available from your nearest NLRB office. A related publication, The National Labor Relations Board and You: Representation Cases, describes the election process in more detail.

What Is the NLRB s Structure?

The agency has two separate components. The Board itself has five members and primarily acts as a quasi-judicial body in deciding cases based on formal records in administrative proceedings. Board members are appointed by the President to five-year terms, with Senate consent, the term of one member expiring each year. The general counsel, appointed by the President to a four-year term with Senate consent, is independent of 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 unfair labor practice and representation cases.

Each Regional Office is run by a Regional Director who is responsible for making the initial determination in unfair labor practice and representation cases arising within the geographical area served by the Region (including any Resident or Subregional Offices within the Region).

What Are the NLRB's Procedures?

Representation Cases

In a typical representation election case, a union employer or individual files a petition with the field office requesting that an election be held among a particular group of employees (called a "bargaining unit") to decide whether the group wishes to be represented, or wishes to continue to be represented, by a union. A petition filed by a union or an individual must be supported by showing that at least 30 percent of affected employees want an election.

If the Region's investigation reveals that the petition should be processed, attempts are made to secure the agreement of the parties on the issues involved, including the appropriate unit and the time and place of the election. Over 80 percent of meritorious election petitions result in such agreements. If an agreement cannot be reached, the Region conducts a hearing. Based upon the record of the hearing, the Regional Director issues a decision disposing of the issues. The Regional Director's decision may be appealed to the Board.

When an unfair labor practice charge is filed, the appropriate field office investigates to decide whether there is reasonable cause to believe the Act has been violated. If the Regional Director decides 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.

If the Regional Director finds reasonable cause to believe a violation 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 a hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge.

The judge issues a written decision which may be appealed to the Board for a final Agency determination That final determination is subject to review in the federal courts. More than 90 percent of the unfair labor practice cases filed with the NLRB are disposed of in an average of 45 days without the necessity of formal litigation before the Board. Only about 4 percent of the cases go on to Board decision.

Since its establishment, the NLRB has processed more than 90O,000 unfair labor practice charges and conducted in excess of 36O,000 secret ballot elections. The Agency handles approximately 4O,000 cases each year, including more than 7,000 representation petitions.

For further information, to find the NLRB field office nearest to you, or to receive copies of the publications referred to here, contact the NLRB headquarters at: The National Labor Relations Board Office of Information 1099 14th St., NW, Room 9400 Washington, D.C. 20570. Phone: (202) 273- 1991.

Other recommended information sources include:

The National Labor Relations Board and You: Unfair Labor Practices
National Labor Relations Board, free 
(202) 273-1991

Provides information about employer and union unfair labor practices.

The National Labor Relations Board and You: Representation Cases 
National Labor Relations Board, free 
(202) 273-1000

Describes the union election process in detail.

A Guide to Basic Law and Procedures Under the National Labor Relations Act 
U.S. Government Printing Office 
(202) 512-1800