FDR Signs the National Labor Relations Act ~ July 5, 1935

CIO organizing poster, circa 1935

On this day July 5, 1935 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, which among other provisions, allowed labor to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining.

The National Labor Relations Act or Wagner Act (named for its sponsor, Senator Robert F. Wagner) is a 1935 United States federal law that limits the means with which employers may react to workers in the private sector who create labor unions – known as trade unions – engage in collective bargaining and take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in support of their demands. The Act did not apply to workers who are covered by the Railway Labor Act, agricultural employees, domestic employees, supervisors, federal, state or local government workers, independent contractors and some close relatives of individual employers.

The constitutionality of the NLRA was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. in 1937. The act contributed to a dramatic surge in union membership and made labor a force to be reckoned with both politically and economically. Women benefited from this shift to unionization as well. By the end of the 1930s, 800,000 women belonged to unions, a threefold increase from 1929.

Over 250 attempts were made to amend this controversial act over the years but the first successful attempt was the passage of the Taft-Hartly Act in 1947 which imposed limits on labor’s ability to strike and prohibited “radicals” from serving in their leadership. In 2011, especially in light of the country-wide fiscal conditions, labor and labor unions continue under attack.