Large-scale unionism was born as a result of the federal National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), and for the most part, union activities are still governed by the NLRA, through its enforcing agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). A number of states have their own “union” laws as well, designed to address issues and/or employees not covered by the federal law, but the NLRA preempts state laws in almost all types of private employment. The NLRA requires management to recognize unions that represent a majority of their employees.
The NLRA protects concerted activities undertaken in a group (i.e., more than one employee or one employee acting on behalf of a group) with respect to terms and conditions of employment, whether or not in a formal union context. This means that the NLRA applies to employers regardless of whether their workers are unionized or not.
The NLRB is the federal agency charged with enforcing and administering the NLRA. The NLRB's functions include:
• To conduct representation elections;
• To investigate and remedy unfair labor practices by employers and unions;
• To adjudicate cases through administrative law judges and the five-member board; and
• To enforce orders of the board through the NLRB's General Counsel who is authorized to file suit in federal court, if necessary.