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National Labor Relations Board FAQs

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 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: John C. Truesdale (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 the general supervision of the NLRB field offices in the processing of cases. The current General Counsel is Fred Feinstein (Acting). 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. If 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.

What 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. Under 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.